Akarnae – Lynette Noni
One of the many great things about blogging for myself is the wide range of other blogs I’ve found as a result. When I first read Lynette Noni‘s blog, she was preparing for the publication of her debut young-adult novel, Akarnae – and at the beginning of this month, it finally came out. Having been interested in keeping up with Lynette’s blog, naturally I was eager to read the book.
Our teenage heroine, Alex Jennings, begins the story in a depressed state of mind: her archaeologist parents are going away on a long-term excavation project and leaving her at a gloomy boarding school for eight months. Things take an unexpected turn, however, when Alex walks through a door on her way to enrol and finds herself in the middle of a forest. After encountering a few residents of this strange place, Alex finds that she has entered a parallel world named Medora, and is soon led to the local school, Akarnae Academy. With no way to get home until Akarnae’s headmaster returns from business unknown, Alex is left to become a student at Akarnae, making friends, grasping how things work in Medora, and getting into a few scrapes along the way.
People reading this may find some similarities to Harry Potter, such as the whole school environment, but Akarnae is still very much its own entity. For one thing, there are many extraordinary things in the world of Medora, but it’s emphasised that it’s not magic, but very advanced technology – bringing to mind Arthur C Clarke’s quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Even qualities that we might call superpowers are treated as normal genetic quirks.
Noni clearly has fun creating the school of Akarnae and the world around it, and gives it many appealing aspects. With classes like Archery, Combat and Equestrian Skills, and recreational activities like movies with virtual reality settings, it’s the kind of school that many will read about and think they’d like to go to – or not. Alex herself recognises that Medora is quite different from their world in terms of ethics along with everything else – such as it apparently being acceptable for the physical education teacher to chase her around the lap track with an electric prod. Her reactions to differences like these, as well as her increasing conflict about going home as she settles into Akarnae, feel understandable and give depth to her character.
There are also various interesting details about Medora’s geography and history, and while there is some occasional info-dumping, it generally isn’t more than we need to know, creating potential for more to be explained in later books. The style of the prose is very easy to get into and often gives you a good feel for Alex as the POV character: I particularly liked one scene where Alex gets a sugar high from overdosing on energy drink and we see how it’s affecting her mind. The characters are very diverse and likeable, and the story manages to be compelling even when it’s not obvious what it’s building towards. With all of this, I found myself really getting into this story and being eager to find out what we would discover next.
The book does have a few areas that could have been improved upon, however. Sometimes the writing flows awkwardly, like with dialogue that seems to be about emphasising certain information and doesn’t really feel like something a real person would say. While Alex is a likeable heroine, she feels a little too “special” at times – obviously she’s going to be different from everyone else, being from a different world, but she’s also gifted with some inherent qualities that automatically put her above the people around her, though I won’t spoil these. Her best friends Jordan and Bear, meanwhile, are too similar to each other in personality; particularly because they’re rarely seen apart, they feel largely interchangeable apart from their special abilities and their backgrounds. Admittedly, learning more about the latter in later parts of the story goes some way to rectifying this problem.
Overall, Akarnae is a lot of fun to read, and when Lynette Noni brings out the next installment in The Medoran Chronicles, I’ll certainly be reading that too. Rating: 4/5.