Also by this author: The Heartwood Crown, The Story King, Journey to Love: What We Long For, How to Find It, and How to Pass It On
Series: The Sunlit Lands #1
Published by Wander on August 7, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Fantasy, Young Adult
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A girl with a deadly lung disease . . .A boy with a tragic past . . .A land where the sun never sets but darkness still creeps in . . .
Madeline Oliver has never wanted for anything, but now she would give anything just to breathe. Jason Wu skates through life on jokes, but when a tragedy leaves him guilt-stricken, he promises to tell only the truth, no matter the price. When a mysterious stranger named Hanali appears to Madeline and offers to heal her in exchange for one year of service to his people, Madeline and Jason are swept into a strange land where they don't know the rules and where their decisions carry consequences that reach farther than they could ever guess.
The Sunlit Lands had been on my radar for a while, but I had missed The Crescent Stone when it first came out and, as a reviewer, it’s often difficult to get back to old books because of all the new ones. But with the release of the third and final book in the series, The Story King, I decided to finally dive into this YA fantasy from Matt Mikalatos. I actually had an interview scheduled with Matt and thought, “Hey, I can probably read all three of these books in a week.” Not. A. Chance.
Imagine, if you will, that C.S. Lewis was writing to teenagers instead of elementary schoolchildren and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what The Sunlit Lands is like. Mikalatos is exquisite in his worldbuilding, bringing together a rich and complex fantasy land that only becomes more nuanced and fully realized as the series progresses. While many things hold symbolism, not everything does; while many things have thematic similarities to real-world events, it’s never a strict analogy. The result is one that forces readers to slow down, take everything in, sort through it thoughtfully, and follow the characters on their own journeys of discovery.
Fantasy, especially Christian fantasy, is often rather overt in its symbolism. Good and evil are clearly defined. The hero’s journey is clear-cut and inevitable. All the pieces fall into place at exactly the right time. That’s not the case with The Crescent Stone. The characters are nuanced and real—even while occasionally being over-the-top. There’s a lot going on and Mikalatos manages to help the reader focus on the primary story while setting up enough mystery in the background so that you also have this understanding that the story is different—and deeper—than what you currently know. (In fact, in reading some negative reviews of The Crescent Stone, I often found that if the reviewer had just kept reading…)
The Crescent Stone is the story of Madeline Oliver, a teenage girl with a terminal illness who is offered her health in exchange for a year of service in the Sunlit Lands. The person making this offer in Hanali, son of Vivi, an emissary of the lands. His job is to search for humans in need and bring them into the service of his people, the Elenil, in their war against the Scim. Facing death, Madeline accepts the offer.
Along for the ride is Jason Wu—Chinese name, 武松 or Wu Song. Nobody really asked him to come, but he walked in on Hanali giving Madeline the offer and refused to let her go alone. Jason is an incorrigible truth-teller and joke-spinner, making him both the comic relief and prophetic voice of the novel. In some ways, Jason’s character is a bit jarring. Jason doesn’t seem to realize he’s in a fantasy world, so it can pull the reader out a bit as well. But, on the other hand, Jason probably has the only truly realistic reaction to being transported into a fantasy world. It’s a voice that you’ll either find endearing or grating. For me, there were times I felt that it fit and times I thought it exasperating (though I have the impression that’s what Mikalatos was going for).
Above all, The Crescent Stone is about the discovery that privilege has a price and that systemic inequality is often masked from the side of privilege but blatantly obvious from all other facets. It’s that social commentary—both woven seamlessly into the Sunlit Lands, and given discussion in the real world—that makes this series stand apart. There’s so much that could be said about these books, but it’s better to just experience it. Trust me on this. The Crescent Stone is a deep and immersive tale that demands your attention.