Our most recent Gollancz Geeks mailing is Mitch Benn’s debut, Terra, and we were thrilled to see the reviews are coming in already. This week, Lisa McCurrach has sent in her fantastic review of Terra. You can follow Lisa on Twitter and Facebook and check our her brilliant blog for more sci-fi and fantasy reviews. Terra is out next week – you can hear some of his celebrity mates reading it here!
When I requested a review copy of this book, it was more or less out of a moment of impulsive interest. I almost didn’t reply to that email from Gollancz, asking if I’d like one; I had a handful of other books lined up to read and review for the month, and my TBR pile is certainly not lacking in books to keep me going afterward. But, as I have a habit of sometimes doing, I let my curiosity get the better of me. In my defense, it sounded like a fun book to read.
‘Fun’ barely begins to cover it. This book is wonderful.
You’ll note that on the cover shown in the picture above, it’s gotten some serious love from none other than Neil Gaiman. I’m not as familiar with his books as I am with Terry Pratchett’s, but the man’s on the money – if you enjoy the sense of humour that pervades Pratchett’s work, then this is a book that’s not to be missed.
Terra is the story of a human girl, taken from Earth and adopted by a scientifically-minded explorer named Lbbp after he’s inadvertently discovered by her parents on a research trip to Earth (‘Rrth’ in his own language), terrifies them into running for their lives, and decides upon finding the baby they left behind in their panic that Earth is a terrible place for a child to be raised. ‘Terra’ is the name she’s given, and she grows up as the only one of her kind on the planet she’s taken back to – in a neat and very interesting twist, it is the human being in this story who is the alien, the outsider, the curiosity. She has friends, and she adapts well to life on Fnrr, but Terra simply can’t help standing out no matter what she does or how well she does it.
This book was instantly engaging for me, and to refer back to that Pratchett comparison again, it really does encompass everything that I love about his books. It has wit (I was seized by the Helpless Laughter on more than one occasion), warmth (though she’s clearly Not One Of Them, the Fnrrns do their best to accept Terra, strange differences and all – and this includes her ears), realism (accepted or not, children will be children) and a whole bucketload of heart beneath it all. It is a wonderfully easy read, and I’d have finished it a whole lot sooner if I didn’t have work getting in my way!
What I loved most, however, were the characters. This is not a particularly long story, and it zips along at quite a pace, but it loses nothing where the insight into its main cast is concerned. Aside from Terra and her adoptive father, Lbbp, we get interesting glimpses into the lives of her closest friends, the highly intelligent (and not a little bit know-it-all) Fthth, and the socially and physically awkward Pktk – and yes, now that I think about it I am seeing definite shades of a certain other highly entertaining trio of fantasy characters, just starting out at school and bonding despite their respective ‘flaws’ …
It’s here, I think, that the heart of this book really shows. For all the snorts and giggles, this is (for me) a story about humanity, and the surprising places and ways in which you can find it. It’s about friendship, and about the wonderful things that can happen when you keep an open mind – or when you stick a crowbar in there and really crack one open. The perilous escapades of Terra and her Fnrrn family and friends never lose sight of that moral of the story, even if it all gets a bit blurry because you’ve been laughing so much you’ve got tears in your eyes. Those tears of laughter turn into real heartstring-tugging in sublime fashion, and showcase Mitch Benn’s talent for this kind of thing wonderfully. If anything at all might count as a nitpick here, it’s perhaps the use of all the difficult-to-pronounce alien words – though the flipside of that (tiny!) nitpick is that it doesn’t interrupt the narrative. It makes perfect sense that an alien language would read and sound like an alien language, and it’s a clever approach that I ultimately and undoubtedly enjoyed.
Which brings me to my next point. For all that there are awesome comparisons to wonderful writers abound here, the ‘voice’ that tells this story is, I think, undoubtedly Mitch Benn’s own. I wasn’t familiar with him before discovering this debut novel, but you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out for future efforts! His background as a comedian shines through in his prose, and if this is any indication of the standard of that comedy then I might just have some serious Googling to do now that I’ve read this book. Heck, I’m already telling myself quite sternly that I need to clear my current-reading slate before I go back for a reread!
So, yes. I can’t fault this one (though I will call it out for being over too quickly!). It is absolutely worth your time to read, if any of the qualities I’ve waxed lyrical about are ones you value in your YA fantasy (or even just in your Fantasy, in general). Terra is easily one of the best debuts I’ve read this year so far, and I hope it sells as well as it deserves to – and then some! So, go on. Make it happen. You don’t want to miss this.
On a final (final) note, however, I have one question that’s been bugging me throughout my reading of this book – what the devil is Gshkth and how do you play it??