The Search for Senna: What’s going on?

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review K.A. Applegate Everworld The Search for SennaThe Search for Senna by K.A. Applegate

Best known for her bestselling pre-teen series Animorphs, K.A. Applegate takes on a darker subject matter for a significantly older audience in her twelve book series Everworld. Straight away one of the advantages to the story is that there’s an end in sight (unlike the Animorph series which dragged on for fifty-four books), though I cannot help but wonder if perhaps this series would have benefited by simply being a single novel. The chapters are short, the font is large, and there is so little exposition presented here that it’s difficult to believe that this is an introductory novel. I must admit at being a little lost at times as to what the heck was going on.

David is a sixteen-year old living a fairly mundane life, till his mysterious girlfriend Senna utters a strange warning to him — that something bad is about to happen. The following morning, David and his three acquaintances from school (I would hesitate to call them “friends” at this stage) Chris, Jalil and April, are drawn to the lakeside where Senna is waiting…Then, lots of random things start happening: Senna is kidnapped by a giant wolf, the teenagers get turned inside out (really got confused at this part), David gets a flashback into some less-than-pleasant memories, and then they all wake up…chained and dangling from a wall in a giant medieval castle.

What follows is a story that manages to involve a range of gods from polytheistic religions (so far gods from the Norse, Egyptian, Aztec and Greek pantheons have been mentioned), trolls, Vikings, Aztecs, unicorns, and what appears to be an alien. The teenagers gradually realize they are in another dimension known as Everworld, in which the gods and created in order to escape from the Old World, along with an assortment of worshippers who naturally wage war on each other. With the simple objective of saying alive in a world full of monsters and madmen (with the added desire to find Senna, who might be able to shed some light on their new situation) the four teens discover that whenever they fall asleep in Everworld, they “wake up” in the real world.

This leads to a fairly interesting portrayal of David, in which he realizes that he much prefers the adventure and danger of Everworld to the boring monotony of his usual life. As she displayed in Animorphs, Applegate shows a good understanding of a teenager’s mind and their speech rhythms, but though the four ‘heroes’ are realistic enough — they aren’t particularly likeable at this stage. Christopher comes across as a bit of a jerk, and Jalil and April have feather-light characterization. Besides being the token minorities, there isn’t much to their characters. And for a story told in first-person narrative, we don’t really get a sense of who David is or what’s driving him. For instance, we don’t even get information on how Senna or David met, or why they started dating in the first place, or even why David is so obsessed by her, beyond the fact that Applegate tells us that he is. Of course, being the first book in the series, there’s plenty of time for character development — but I can’t help but compare the quartet to the five main characters of Animorphs who simply leapt off the page with their liveliness. I knew them instantly — can’t really say the same for David, April, Chris and Jalil.

Search for Senna is a shaky start to a new series simply because there’s so much going on without any basic explanation as to why it’s happening, or an understanding of the “rules” at work within the story, or even the characters themselves (Senna herself seems to be at the base of all the extraordinary events, which makes me wonder why Applegate chose to narrate this first book from David’s point of view — wouldn’t April have been a wiser option considering that they are half-siblings?) Applegate has thrown everything in this story but the kitchen sink, and with the story ending on a cliff-hanger in which an army of Vikings attack an Aztec city, I couldn’t help but compare it to crazy internet cross-over fan fiction. Things may pan out in later books, when there is enough depth and scope to balance out the craziness of this first installment, but Search for Senna left me rather baffled.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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