The Last Days of Tian Di: Book 1, Shade & Sorceress (2012) & Book 2, The Unmaking (2013), by Catherine Egan: Resource Links review

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 19.3.

Egan-ShadeIn Shade & Sorceress, we are introduced to Eliza Tok: taken from her family and friends, powerless, confused, and yet nominally a sorceress; in The Unmaking, Eliza learns and grows into her powers and truly becomes who she was born to be: the Shang Sorceress.

I struggled with reviewing Shade and Sorceress, as there is so much in it to discuss: elements that continue in The Unmaking. I didn’t mention how engaging the characters’ are, nor how distinctive Egan has made their voices, their characteristics, their cultures. I didn’t mention the deep complexity of the world Egan has created: I hoped that was inherent in my comments about the confusion Eliza faces—never knowing who to trust, who not to, where to go, what to do. In The Unmaking, the complexities deepen: we are shown more of Eliza’s world and begin to understand—like Eliza—the political machinations that underlie the delicate balance between the two worlds, Tian Xia and Di Shang. The mandate of the Shang Sorceress is to guard the Crossings, to prevent creatures from Tian Xia from crossing into our world and reeking havoc. In the beginning, though, Eliza cannot even command the Boatman, and has to pay—like any other semi-magical creature—to cross into Tian Xia; by the end of the novel,

Eliza commanded the Boatman and he came.
“Lah,’ said Charlie, impressed, ‘How about that!” (262)

Egan-UnmakingThe Unmaking opens with the unlikely scene of a ninja-Eliza kidnapping a corrupt official, and handing him over to the Mancers for trial. Readers will wonder where Egan is leading us (and thinking, “astray?”), but the ethos of the story has not really changed: Di Shang is still a world where magic and human knowledge coexist, and Eliza is still a rebellious young girl, not sure where her loyalties truly lie. The choices she makes, though, have become more imperative, for the Xia Sorceress, Nia, has escaped the prison the Mancers had constructed, and is seeking her revenge. Like Shade & Sorceress, The Unmaking defies distillation. Its complexities—narrative and psychological—position it firmly in the realm of fantasy series such as Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddle of Stars, or Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising: the powers that Eliza commands are not simple spells and trickery—even in the sophisticated way the Mancers use them—but a deeper magic, rooted in the Earth, that Eliza’s dual ethnicity has access to. As the daughter of her Shang Socceress mother and her Sorma father, Eliza has more power—and more innate wisdom—than any Shang Sorceress before her. In the Last Days of Tian Di, Eliza is a shining light of humanity melded with power; I can’t wait to see where her strength and compassion lead her. Ms. Egan: please write quickly.


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