CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 1. . . .September 3, 2010
Gool. (The Salt Trilogy, Volume 2).
Victoria, BC: Orca 2010.
215 pp., hardcover, $18.00.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Vikki VanSickle.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
The gool had been born from an oily crack in the mountainside. It bulged from darkness into the morning light, undulating beneath its skin. The main part of its body lay on the slope down from the crack, spreading, flattening, busy at its edges with a thousand tiny mouths eating whatever they found. Except for the ant-like busyness, and the organs turning under its skin, it was like a dead jellyfish on a beach—but larger, a thousand times larger than any jellyfish ever seen. The mewing Xantee heard was the sound of hunger coming from the mouths as they fastened on the living stone of the mountain slope. Every now and then a pit like a whale's blowhole opened in the gool's skin—there was no one place—and a puff of gray dust shot into the air.
Xantee, Duro, Lo could not speak. Each felt the same: there was no way they could fight this beast. There was no way it belonged in the world.
Gool picks up 15 years after Pearl and Hari fake their deaths and escape to the inland sea at the end of Salt. They have been living peacefully with their children and a small number of other misfits in a sort of rural oasis until the discovery of a dangerous creature, the mysterious gool, that is described as being not "of nature." Hari attempts to destroy it, but he fails and is gravely wounded. The creature has left behind a part of a tentacle, wrapped around Hari's throat, and is slowly devouring him.
The only hope they have is an old tale about Barni, a fisherman who killed a similar creature by blotting out a red and white star. But this story is incomplete and its origins unknown. Xantee, the eldest child of Pearl and Hari, along with Duro, the child of Tilly, the young woman who helped conceal Pearl and her maid, Tealeaf, 16 years before, set off in search of answers. They seek Hari's father, Tarl the Dog King, hoping he will lead them to the Burrows where they might find the remains of a great library in which they hope to find a book that holds the key to destroying the gool.
Time is of the essence as Hari draws nearer to death with each hour that passes, and so Gee's narrative rushes along at a breakneck pace. There is less political upheaval and more of a traditional quest structure in this novel than there is in its predecessor, Salt. Familiar characters, such as Tarl, Tealeaf, Keech, and, of course, Pearl and Hari, return, but they have been changed by the events of the past 15 years. Readers get a deeper glimpse of the mysterious and fascinating Peeps who live in the jungles and offer protection and advice but can never be seen. Gee also introduces the reader to a cast of memorable new characters. Xantee, for example, is hungry to prove herself. She is impatient, like her father, and inquisitive, like her mother. Ultimately it is the combination of these traits that allow her to succeed.
I particularly enjoyed how Gee plays with the ideas of myth and truth, and how the lines between symbolism and reality are blurred as Xantee and Duro discover the truth about the legend and how it applies to their own situation. There is a lot to talk about here in terms of storytelling and legend, and how it informs our history and the backbone of civilization.
Dystopian novels are experiencing a surge in popularity lately, led in part by the success of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. The Salt books fit nicely into this niche. Maurice Gee is something of a legend in New Zealand, and he earns his revered status in The Salt Trilogy. These are sophisticated and violent novels. The fact that they are thought-provoking and reflect some of the grittier truths about the nature of survival and society is a bonus. Gool will appeal to boys and girls alike, though I do feel that The Salt Trilogy, in general, is more likely to strike a chord with a male audience.
Vikki VanSickle holds a Masters in Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia. Currently, she is the manager of the Flying Dragon Bookshop in Toronto, ON. Her first children's novel, Words That Start with B, will be released in September 2010, from Scholastic Canada.
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