Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Alis, by Naomi Rich
At the age of 14, Alis is informed by her parents that she must marry the 40 year-old minister of their church. Determined to avoid this fate, she finds an excuse to travel to a nearby village to delay the nuptial and to put herself in a better position to run away. But the new village is far more dangerous and Alis's trouble quickly multiply until she is forced to flee for her life to the strange and hostile City, where she hopes to find a new life. The dangers continue to appear and by the end of the story, Alis's life is in danger.
While evocative of Shaker, Puritan, and Amish cultures, Rich has created a evocative world of faith and suspicion that is at once both familiar and different from our own. The customs are beautifully laid out and the story unfolds in a believable and compelling fashion. Yet Rich is wise to never quite specify that this is a real historical past, because it allows her greater freedom to develop events in her own way and leave the reader always a bit off-balance. Also, Alis's fierce self-determination would have seemed anachronistic in an "real" setting. So, while the story reminded me of The Shakeress and even a bit of The Return of Martin Guerre, Rich was free to take her heroine in far more interesting directions than either of those stories. The result is a hybrid of fantasy and historical fiction that is rewarding.