In February this year, Appalachia Bare attended the Rose Glen Literary Festival in Sevierville, Tennessee. The festival holds creative workshops and is lined wall-to-wall with authors, artists, publishers, and various other vendors in the creative world.
One such talented author we met was Jay Reace, whose young adult book Legacy was prominently displayed, accompanied by scrolled maps and other trappings from his world of fantasy. I’ve been a lover of fantasy and science fiction since my early teens when I was introduced to C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and the Tom Swift series of the early eighties. Mr. Reace has an intriguing world concept, quite exceptional and different from those that flood this genre, so I picked up a copy (along with a map, of course), and dove in.
Legacy is the first book in Reace’s Scion series, set in a far distant, and much changed, Earth. He starts with a brief prologue packed with vivid descriptions of humanity’s self-destructive fall, persistent re-creation, and eventual rise, both figurative and literal. After being forced into underground bunkers and cities because of apocalyptic wars, nuclear destruction, and environmental devastation, survivors are forced into an evolutionary shift. The result is a world of people who have been given a hard lesson in humility. If we disrespect and abuse Mother Earth, she can, and will, retaliate with extreme prejudice.
Reace crafts this global renewal over centuries to paint a remarkably optimistic view for our future generations. One where Homo sapiens have learned to live in harmony with nature, accepting and building upon the symbiotic relationship with her, rather than treating her like a disposable container.
The centuries it takes for the world to heal from environmental disaster naturally transform the world’s topography, as well as the people. Science and technology aren’t lost, though they do change. So, Reace’s new world has many of the same luxuries we do—cars, planes, TVs, etc. Many amenities are actually more advanced (perhaps a nod to how beneficial it is to work with the world rather than simply use it). And some societies shun this return to the “old ways” that caused global ruination, choosing instead humbler agrarian collectives outside the control of the new societies. The deeper connection to the land has, over many generations, caused people to develop various “gifts,” or, abilities to manipulate the world around them.
Our adventure begins in one such rural community in the Nuhana region (formerly Central and South Africa). Here, our protagonists, Xolani and Raine Raveness, have taken refuge to raise their children, daughter Niya and son Keon, in relative peace and anonymity. We first meet Xolani meditating in a field: “The morning light shines over Xolani’s deep brown skin and rugged facial features as his rich, black hair twists together, reaching toward the sun.” His peaceful reflection is marred by a dark vision of an attack on his family and him being powerless to save them. The imagery is broken when Niya, with dark braids and bright green eyes, is sent by her mother to fetch him. She expresses her concern, but like all fathers, he dismisses it:
“Daddy, are you sure you’re okay?” The words explode from her mouth, and Xolani nearly jumps out of his skin at the loud volume of her voice.
“You don’t look well,” she says.
“I’m fine, promise. My ears aren’t. But I’m fine. It was just some mental conditioning—a little mental sparring. I might have been a little too hard on myself, that’s all.”
“Come on, Daddy. Mental sparring? I think you make this stuff up to make us think you’re smart,” Niya jokes.
They continue with some not-so-subtle foreshadowing:
“Are you getting ready for a fight, Daddy?”
Xolani gives her a loving smile. “It’s always better to be a warrior in a garden that a gardener in a war.”
“Why do you never answer questions?”
“Why do you never speak as if you are talking with your father?”
“Because my father raised me to be me and not who others wished I’d be,” Niya retorts.
Their somewhat idyllic life is forever changed when Xolani is summoned to the Royal Court by his estranged father King Xerxes. At this point in the story, fantasy reflects the ugly face of our own society, and Reace is especially gifted in providing that mirror. You see, the Raveness’ are a multiracial family. While Xolani is a member of the royalty, his wife Raine is a commoner. She is described as having “peachy skin” with “messy auburn hair.” King Xerxes calls her “that fugenie wife,” and their children “half-breeds.” The “fugenie” slur may not be specifically defined by Reace, but its meaning is crystal clear. Reace deftly demonstrates how damaging the effects of racism and prejudice are to all our lives and our society. He does this in often raw and painful language, and, just as in real life, he reveals that innocent children bear the brunt of baseless hatred.
The king has summoned Xolani to force him to undertake a dangerous mission to retrieve a mythical item, a mission he accepts on the condition that Raine accompany him. Other companions are introduced along the way, and, like all good young adult stories, give voice to important lessons. Miss Lupita, for example, is the children’s tutor, and she provides a delightful mix of humor and wisdom. She explains to them that the Creator’s gifts
. . . have been inside you since your conception. As we grow, our gifts are presents we need to unwrap. Sadly, many don’t. The way I see it, you can become one of two types of people. A person who can, or a person who does. Both have the potential, but only one acts on the belief that they already have the ability. The choice is yours.
Legacy has twists and turns, with betrayal, kidnapping, riddles, and a world to save. This journey is a true family adventure where the book’s central characters have a healthy relationship founded in mutual love and respect. Raine and Xolani are full partners in their relationship, each having strengths and weaknesses that are balanced, complemented by the other. Reace pens his family of protagonists with the gravity of a parent, and show’s how great obstacles can be overcome by working together and supporting each other. Kudos.
This new world is by no means a utopia. We are still flawed, being self-centered and short-sighted, often greedy and power-hungry. I mean, human nature hasn’t changed. Interwoven in this family adventure of riddles and combat, are lessons about the choices we make, how we treat each other, and how we deal with the consequences of our actions.
The clear messages from Jay Reace’s tale are hope and optimism. Legacy embraces the abiding beliefs that the good part of human nature can ultimately win over the bad; that we can learn from our mistakes and create a better world; that, although we must contend with dark forces in a struggle that won’t be easy, we can achieve positive change when we work together. I thoroughly enjoyed Legacy and am very much looking forward to the next chapter in the series. I strongly recommend it to anyone, whether young in age or young at heart, who is looking for a new world to explore. The adventure awaits.
To find Reace’s book, click on the following images:
Featured image of Jay Reace from goodreads