“I Don’t Know What’s Out There, But It Knows Me…”
Tymon is a young man growing up amongst strict priests in a seminary, an indentured orphan whose life and future have been organized in full by his guardians. Only occasionally is he able to escape his chores to visit an exiled heretic and dabble in the work of science that has been all but banned by the priests. Life for Tymon is made up of routine and dreaming, but when his friend Galliano constructs a new flying device, his desire for a world beyond the confines of the seminary suddenly seems as though it could be realized.
Tymon’s world is a giant tree: its boughs divided under two massive outcroppings, upon whose branches are built entire cities for its population. Transportation is achieved with floating airships, and religion, culture and social structure are all defined by the growth and lifecycle of the tree on which they live. It’s all described and presented a lot less strangely in the text than I’m making it sound in this review, and Mary Victoria‘s inspiration (I’m guessing) comes from the Norse myth of Yggdrasil, the World Tree that holds all of creation between its roots and canopy.
According to the people who live amongst its branches, there is no world beyond the tree itself — only passage between the Central and Eastern Canopies. From the East come shiploads of pilgrims, more accurately described as refugees or slaves, who are attempting to find a new life for themselves away from the increasing entropy of the eastern colonies. To do so, these Nurians sign away their livelihoods to the priests of Argos city, and are transported en masse on airships to be forced into lives of drudgery and manual labour. An unlucky few are offered up as sacrifices to the tree itself.
To Tymon, all this is simply a way of life and it’s not until a series of increasingly odd events that he begins to question his upbringing; namely a run-in with a red-haired pilgrim who is in Argos for reasons that seem to defy the priests’ control. As he learns more, Tymon begins to make choices that are considered heretical to the priests that rule the Central Canopy, and his bid for freedom comes at a very high price.
In many ways Tymon’s Flight has all the trappings of a typical fantasy-adventure: an orphaned youth, a crazy inventor, a mysterious woman, a stigmatized race getting ready to fight back against their oppressors, and a backdrop of conflict that can basically be divided into enlightened spirituality versus stuffy religion. But by keeping almost everything that happens tied up tightly within Tymon’s point of view, these familiar components are handled in such a way that makes every plot development feel mysterious and suspenseful. We learn along with Tymon: the cruelties and delights of the world, the true nature and identities of his companions, and the truth behind the Grafting heresy — that is, the sacred sight that is accorded to those who can communicate with the tree itself (and thankfully, this has more to do with the concept of fate than any ham-fisted environmental moralizing).
Tymon makes a great protagonist for the reader to follow. He’s neither indecisive nor gung-ho, he makes his decisions and follows through on them, he keeps an open mind and isn’t too proud to admit when he’s wrong, and though he sometimes doubts himself, he’s confident enough to stand up for himself when threatened. Heroic without being superhuman, he’s someone that you could easily imagine braving the adventure that presents itself to him. Because so much of the story’s emphasis is on Tymon, the supporting characters are more lightly sketched, but are all intriguing in their own right, with plenty of room to grow in subsequent books.
Mary Victoria’s prose is both clear and descriptive, and though the plot is a little exposition-heavy at first, the slow pacing of the first few chapters involves incidents that are revealed in a new light later on in the story as Tymon’s knowledge expands along with the reader’s. As the first in the CHRONICLES OF THE TREE books, the ending of Tymon’s Flight is left wide open for sequels, though it thankfully ends on a conclusive note rather than a cliffhanger. Also included is a map, glossary and translation guide for the Nurian language.
Though I tried to pace myself with a chapter a night, I soon found that this was impossible. Once the story picks up, reading becomes compulsive, and an entire weekend was devoted to finishing up Tymon’s Flight. Mary Victoria has created an intriguing world, likeable characters, and a tried-and-true conflict of heroic underdogs versus corrupt priestly bureaucrats. I’d be first in line to pick up the sequel.