E. Detorres’ novel ARAYA opens in a fantastical world wildly different from our own. As war rages on in city centers, Gundogs travel through Hell’s Heart, a forest rife with literal nightmares, to earn their living by fighting beasts and harvesting armor. The armor is then purchased by the military to support the war effort; it’s a lucrative but dangerous job. However, only trained minds will survive The Song of the forest, which will drive humans madder each minute they are among the trees. Ellis, a former educator specializing in working with Autistic students, leads a highly successful team into Hell’s Heart to fight beasts and collect their pay while a war is taking place in the outside world. As the character’s history and experiences are revealed to readers, a deeper understanding of Ellis’s talents, motivations, and fears inform as to why he chose to pursue this wildly dangerous life.
As the story begins to unfold, Ellis is approached by a high ranking military official who asks him to complete a special mission to recover a vital weapon, referred to only as Araya. This weapon is believed to be the key to stopping the enemy and winning the war, and recovering the weapon will also mean a large reward that Ellis will be able to share among his team. With visions of the end of war and full pockets to begin a new life, Ellis directs his team to enter the forest in pursuit not of the usual prize – fantastical beasts who reign in the darkness – but of hope. The four person team led by Ellis also includes Alex, one of the few women Gundogs to venture into the forest for this grueling work. Alex is also an educator, and was a coworker with Ellis in the before times. Told through first person experiences of the main characters, the author effectively makes the story feel full and immersive by carrying the reader through character flashbacks, allowing backstory to inform the current decisions each of the characters face. As readers learn more about Ellis and Alex, they are also informed about the talents, challenges, and experiences of working with Autistic individuals, and how those skills are universally applicable. ARAYA is ultimately a story of hope, even amidst the frightening forest and the terrors waiting just out of sight. Readers are not coddled with a tidy ending, but challenged to consider the realities of war, and the universal humanity that connects everyone.
E. Detorres builds an immersive and fantastical world in ARAYA, thrilling readers while also demonstrating the fragile nature of the human mind, the importance of emotional resilience.
~Sarah Baer for IndieReader