Glendyl Fenderwell is a sixteen-year-old living hundreds of years into the future, and her world is vastly different from ours. She’s part of an isolated community, St Coriander, which is steeped in tradition, and becomes the “lucky” teenager sent out into the world on the annual ‘quest’, the less-than-optimistic hopes of her community pinned upon her. Luck, incidentally, is almost like religion here, and right at the forefront of Fenderwell’s backwater society.
Our heroine is outgoing and athletic, but she’s facing fierce odds as she’s forced out on her own in this strange realm, where her predecessors – 249 of them – have disappeared before her. The pathways she must navigate are complex and riddled with danger. Her only assistance, aside from those who may have been sent to mislead her, comes in the form of sarcastic technology, while her travels are dictated to varying degrees by the playful yet dark challenges set by a kind of taskmaster overlord, Exeter.
THE LUCK OF MADONNA 13 is the first in a series called The Last Nevergate Chronicles, ‘Nevergate’ being a reference to a form of transportation that humans have discovered and then almost discarded, a technology allowing us to cross between vastly disparate universes. Access to these Nevergates was once critical, in that they represented the key source of power in the universe, without which any community is destined to struggle. The plot of the book fires along, ably manipulated by the characters themselves, the author’s clever use of various perspectives, and a couple of clever linchpins. The detail is also impressive, not least in the sometimes extended footnotes that invite us to explore the world’s history, explain away its playful slang, or delve into a colorful cultural aside. There are echoes here of ‘The Hunger Games’, albeit positive and inventive ones. The lead is a teenager taking on all comers, representing her community, battling unknown environments as a ‘chosen one’, if not against such an explicit enemy. Glendyl Fenderwell readily recalls Katniss Everdeen, and like Suzanne Collins’ hit series, the marauding, intriguing feel of the unraveling plot shows plenty of promise when it comes to a longer series. There’s also the otherworldly air, though in this case, it comes in the form of magic, castles and wyverns more prominently than control and social repression.
The target audience for THE LUCK OF MADONNA 13 is teenagers, and there are elements here that will be more than a little familiar to sci-fi readers, from the technology and the individual quest element to the increasingly brave character arc. Nevertheless, the text is vibrant, holds plenty of surprises, occasionally takes on almost philosophical undertones, and fires along at a rapid gait throughout its 500-plus pages.
A coming-of-age adventure set in the distant future, E. T. Ellison’s THE LUCK OF MADONNA 13 opens a journey of discovery into an inventive, multi-faceted realm, with strong characters, a rapid pace, and memorable inventiveness.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader