The Secrets of The Book

Traci Chee’s YA Fantasy Series Comes to an Exciting Close

It had been written, so it came to pass.

If only it were that simple.

Traci Chee has created a New York Times-bestselling world with her young-adult fantasy series about a teen-age girl, Sefia, who lives in a world where hardly anyone can read. Someone kills her parents and kidnaps her guardian aunt. And so Sefia must discern the truth behind that rectangular-shaped object her family’s been guarding with their lives.

Turns out it’s a book, of course, but not just any book. It’s the Book, with the 411 on everything that’s going to happen. Not quite a prophecy, but close. Chee adds to the choose-your-own-destiny element a brewing war between kingdoms, a complex cast of characters including a pirate captain, and Sefia’s growing ability to read not only words but scars, paths and other physical objects. “Could anything be a book, if only you knew how to read it?” one character asks.  Top that with the (initially) mute killer Archer, and it could be a hopeless stew of confusion. But instead it’s a recipe for some serious binge-reading.

Chee started the series off with 2016’s The Reader and followed up a year later with The Speaker. Now comes the final book in the trilogy, The Storyteller. Fans will finally find out how Sefia and Archer’s intertwined destinies will be realized, something Sefia desperately tries to micromanage because she’s already seen the ominous fate the Book portends for him.

If you’re late to this meta fantasy party, it’s well worth reading the first two books before diving into Storyteller. While it’s possible to follow along to the epic’s conclusion by just reading this last title, you’d rob yourself of the full experience.

Chee is an avowed fan of book and paper arts, so in addition to the book-within-a-book trope and the multiple Easter eggs scattered throughout the first two novels, there are also typography and design elements that enrich the story over the course of reading, from coded messages to faded text and ink smudges that, for the puzzle-minded reader, effectively enhance the storytelling experience. It’s tough to pull this off without getting gimmicky, but Chee manages it. She also pulls together all the disparate threads from the first two books into discrete endpoints.

Too many fantasy books out there put world-building before plot, but Chee is a mistress of both, and that’s what sets this series apart. She navigates the delicate balance to create a multi-layered tale meant for savoring.

(Putnam/Penguin, November 13, 2018)

Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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