This weekend I read Anatopsis, a middle grade fantasy novel by Chris Abouzeid (who was generous enough to send me a lovely signed copy). Anatopsis is a cross between traditional fantasy and futuristic science fiction, with dashes of mythology and environmentalism thrown in. It's the story of Ana (full name Anatopsis), an Immortal princess who lives in a magical castle on the only island left on Earth capable of sustaining life. Ana's mother, Queen Abigail, is a witch descended from a long line of witches, and is also the chairperson of Amalgamated Witchcraft Corporation. Queen Abigail's sworn enemy is the Warlock King Archibald Georges, head of a rival witchcraft corporation.
As the story begins, Ana learns that she is to have a new tutor for the next year, the demi-god Mr. Pound, and that her classes will be shared with Prince Barnaby Georges (son of her mother's enemy). Ana is supposed to learn with Barnaby, but never to befriend him. Barnaby is a rather hapless boy with very limited magical skills, though he does have some non-magical mechanical ability.
Ana and her best friend/chambermaid, Clarissa (a mortal), initially delight in tormenting Barnaby and his talking dog, Uno. However, as dark events start to occur in the castle, the three children and Uno bond together. By the time circumstances separate them again, their loyalties are firm. This is helped by the fact that Ana's mother and Barnaby's father are both rather harsh and dictatorial.
Ana, Barnaby, Clarissa, and Uno must solve a puzzle related to the mythological division of the human race into mortal vs. immortal, non-magical vs. magical. This division is clearly presented throughout the book, with the mortals portrayed as exploited victims of the immortals (though they are victims who quietly fight back). The mortals live in the toxic environment of the ghetto, while the immortals have access to a magical purification system that keeps their part of the world pleasant.
There are a lot of things to like about this book. I particularly enjoyed the mix of magic and science fiction. For example, Barnaby interns for a time in the offices of the Amalgamated Witchcraft Corporation, and learns of the mysterious and high tech things that go on there behind the scenes. I also liked the fact that the two main characters are rebels, each in their own way, who disappoint their powerful parents. The character of Ana is especially well-drawn. There's also a section of the book that's written in short, alternating passages, reflecting the different experiences of Barnaby and Ana during a time that they're separated, and I found the technique to be quite gripping. The rules regarding magic and the environment are detailed and consistent throughout the book. The ending is satisfying, pulling together various strands of plot into one inevitable confrontation and series of consequences.
Overall, I think that Anatopsis will please fans of middle-grade fantasy novels, especially those who struggle under the burden of parental expectations, or who want a touch of science fiction thrown in. For more about the book, see the Anatopsis website.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.