Review: Unlocked, a novel by Cynthia d’Entremont

Unlocked, by Cynthia d’Entremont (Word Alive Press, 2010)

“What if you lived in a world where killing was a rite of passage?”

Jaron, Devora and Benjamin have survived in Leviathon’s crowded Garbage Heaps for ten years, longing for the day they could leave. But the world outside the cinderblock wall is more dangerous than they know.

Abandoned in the Heaps as five-years, by the time they leave at 15 their innocence and hope are gone. Jaron still clings to memory fragments and his one possession: a key he must keep hidden.

Unlocked follows Jaron and Devora in their separate experiences outside the wall. Leviathon’s secrets run deeper and darker than its citizens know, and what the two teens discover puts them in mortal danger.

This is action-fantasy, as opposed to a slower-paced and longer epic fantasy. It’s a fast read, dark but not overwhelming. I appreciated the author’s light touch with heavy issues; readers know what happens, but the graphic parts occur “off-screen.”

It’s a novel that will appeal to adults as well as to the age 15+ readers at which it’s aimed. There’s Christian allegory for those who want to find it, but the faith element is subtle enough to make the book suitable for Christians and those of other or no faith.

The characters are believable: wounded by their environment but courageous enough to fight for what’s right. The setting, while not our own, has a city and countryside we can relate to. And the societal issues, while overtly different, include some that are very familiar: homelessness, violence and injustice.

Since I finished the novel I’ve been puzzling over the how and why of Devora’s encounter with her enemy. I think I have the “how” settled, and I have some ideas about the “why” but I’m still curious. To say more would be to spoil a key plot point, but it’s something I hope will be explained in the sequel.

Unlocked is the 2009 Word Alive free publishing contest winner in the fiction category and is now available online or through your local bookseller. You can learn more about the novel and about Canadian author Cynthia d’Entremont at her website.

Note: Cynthia is a personal friend. While that predisposed me to see the good things in the novel, it doesn’t account for how strongly the story and characters drew me in or how long I thought about them afterward. I’m now in danger of putting our friendship at risk by repeatedly asking how the sequel is coming along.

[Book source: I bought my own copy of Unlocked at the novel’s launch party.]

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