Fated: The Soul Seekers, Book One
by Alyson Noel
Alyson Noël (the Immortals series) mines her New Mexico setting and brings to life the land of enchantment in this kickoff to a quartet about Daire Santos, the reluctant heir to an ancient line of shamans.
In a cryptic opening, a murder of crows circles a graveyard where Paloma Santos stands next to a casket, convinced "that her son's sudden death was no accident." The woman also senses in her son's girlfriend an unborn child "whose fate had long been foretold," and whose safety Paloma bears in mind as she removes herself from the funeral, vowing to re-enter the child's life when she turns 16.
Readers meet Paloma's granddaughter in the next chapter, in Marrakesh on her 16th birthday. Daire, who narrates, has accompanied her mother, Jennika, a professional make-up artist, on location for a film. The teen star of the film takes Daire out to celebrate. As they wind through the Moroccan streets, Noël conjures the smells of goat grilling in the open air, exotic oils and jasmine, and the steady pulse of the gnaoua drum that induces Daire's first vision--a disturbing illusion of glowing people, decapitated heads and crows. When Daire awakens, she discovers she's restrained, and a doctor administers something to knock her out for the flight home to the U.S. But the visions return on the plane. Then Jennika receives a call from the long-absent Paloma, who offers to take Daire to her adobe house in Enchantment, New Mexico. Faced with the possibility of institutionalizing her daughter, Jennika decides to take Paloma up on her offer--much to Daire's disgust.
Noël taps into the universal adolescent impulse to resist authority, even though Daire knows she needs the guidance of someone more experienced to navigate the strange things that are happening to her. Her first night at Paloma's, Daire has a dream of two brothers: one kind, one evil, and both magnetic. Her soul recognizes the kind one as her true love but, in a graphic scene, the evil one devours him, to ingest his "sacred, shimmering sphere" of a soul. As the story progresses, this terrifying dream becomes the cornerstone of Daire's experiences in the tiny town of Enchantment. Soon after waking, Daire flees Paloma's house, only to come up against the two brothers from her dream inside a basement bar as she waits for a bus to Albuquerque. When disaster strikes, she finally surrenders to Paloma's path.
Daire's skepticism allows Noël to tap into realms that readers might ordinarily find farfetched. She grounds Daire's experiences in the smells, tastes and touch of the world around her--jasmine trees and the rustle of wind through the leaves, and the way the sun ricochets off a mountain range. At times it feels as though we've stepped into a Georgia O'Keeffe painting. Daire meets others like her, who feel a pull toward both the ethereal and the real, such as Paloma's friend Chay, a veterinarian who embraces both his Native American roots and Western medicine, and who teaches Daire to ride and care for Kachina, a beautiful brown-and-white horse. The magic that pulses through Daire emanates from the land and its creatures, as she becomes one with them.
In Noël's capable hands, Daire straddles the otherworldly elements of her calling as a shaman (including a captivating scene of Daire's vision quest) and the familiar trappings of a "normal" life as a high school student. Unfortunately, Cade Richter, the corrupt brother from Daire's dream and from the bar, attends the same high school--as does Cade's kinder twin, Dace, also from her dream and from her vision quest. Can she trust her instincts about Dace? Or is he as bent on Daire's destruction as Cade seems to be?
Daire's sense of humor balances out her dark visions. Evoking her days on movie sets, she calls the popular crowd the "marquee girls." But, after her vision quest, she also knows she has the upper hand. When she's tempted to "crush" the marquee girls' ringleader, Daire reminds herself that Paloma warned her to use her skill for "the greater good" rather than to protect her ego. The perils of high school often feel as threatening as navigating the Lower-, Upper- and Middleworld that Daire's destiny as a shaman requires of her. Readers will feel the pull of Daire's quest just as forcefully as Daire herself does, and will count the days until the release of Echo, the second installment, this fall. --Jennifer M. Brown