(Mud, Rocks, and Trees Volume 1)
by R. A. Denny
” ‘In the last days, when the new star glows in the skies;
Out of the depths of the rocks we call. Hear our cries!
As earth’s secrets unfold, he who sleeps will arise;
Three seals guard the land where the hidden treasure lies.
Rock soars out of the air; trees float over the seas;
Every man in the city buried by mud flees;
So, let the Word be spread, so let the Truth be known
When the son of a duck, the heir, takes the throne.
Through the bog roll the stones,
through the log flows a breeze;
Build the Kingdom by gathering mud, rocks, and trees.’ “
It has been prophesied that once a new star begins to shine brightly in the sky, a voyage must begin. For three adolescents, this means the adventure of a lifetime and the hope of growth and prosperity for their families; a chance to bring honor upon their houses. But it also means leaving everything they have ever known behind, and in some cases, the terrifying prospect of having the lives of the ones they love held precariously on their tender shoulders.
Three travelers will begin to come together from walks of life that could not be more different – of rocky mountains, of mud-laden shores, and of towering treetops. They are intent upon closing the gaps of their cultures and their beliefs as they make the journey into the big city, armed with the desire to promote change and the support of those they have left in their past. They will be traveling blindly on a path riddled with obstacles and danger, sometimes nothing but the sheer force of their own will acting as a a binding force in their momentum. The journey will be difficult, but it has a purpose.
Amanki is the son of a single mother and part of a brood full of strong opinions and loud dramas. As part of a tribe that seeks their livelihood and spiritual guidance from mud and all its offerings, the family spend their time satisfyingly building walls from firmly packed mud and fishing along the shore of the river. It is a meager but contented existence for most, but Amanki can’t help but wonder if there is more out in the world. His mentor, the wizened Baskrod, attends to him each year with his teachings of language and customs of other areas of the empire, but Amanki feels the call of adventure singing in his blood even when only under the tutelage of his family. When he catches a glimpse of the new star hanging in the sky, he knows it is finally his time. As Baskrod arrives with news of a threat moving the way of the village and of nefarious danger afoot, Amanki is torn between belief of his teacher and a loyalty to his own way of life. Soon enough, a ruthless band of men on bloodthirsty horses arrive in Amanki’s village and he must face some of the toughest choices he will ever make. Fight? Flee? It is something that will forever haunt him. And now, set out across the vast waters with an injured Baskrod and a curious healer woman aboard his ship, Amanki must make the slow way into the city with the star as his loving guide. Hanging around his neck is a jeweled seal given to him by a mysterious village woman, and the young man will soon find that things are not as they appear at first glance.
Brina is a Glider, and a skilled one at that. Growing up in the community that makes its home high in the thick forest of Mesmeringa trees, she has always been able to find peace in nature. Everything a Glider could ever need can be found nestled in the leafy arms of the Mesmeringa trees; cures for ailments, shelter, food. The trees are so revered and legendary that the dark cloud of a greedy empire is now slowly approaching and carrying with it, the prospect death and destruction. Eager to claim the precious trees for themselves and conquer the lands they sit upon, a tribe that rides on giant cats has been sending scouts into the forest for reconnaissance. The Gliders don’t wish to harm anyone without explicit provocation, but when one of their own is killed during one of the cat rider’s missions, they find they must take action. After one of the riders is caught and brought to justice by the Glider council, Brina is used as a translator and tasked with the awful job of educating her elders with the story of the handsome cat rider who had a part in the death of her best friend. When things don’t go as planned, Brina finds herself sent upon a quest that is not of her own making, nor that of the star with which she has hung her hopes of independence and glory.
Moshoi is awakened early from his state of hibernation, something that he initially doesn’t take too kindly too. But upon his wake, he is alerted to the sighting of the new star by his younger brother. Excitement takes root inside of Moshoi and he is anxious to begin his journey. After a visit to his local mentor and teacher garners supplies, information, and another traveling companion, Moshoi must make plans to keep his family safe from harm. As everyone is in their hibernating state during the peak temperature months of the year, he is forced wake his temperamental father and have him keep watch in his brother’s stead. With his father’s sharp tongue and quick temper flaming his trip forward, Moshoi gladly begins the trek towards the city and feels relieved to leave most everything behind for a while. His scaled body makes for a protective shell against most matters of treachery to be found within the rocky mountains, but there are some circumstances that cannot be foreseen. Moshoi must quickly learn how to get himself and his brother safely out of harm’s way — and fast.
And far from the trio, a plot thickens in the empirical city of Tzloladia where a paranoid Emperor sits on an unsteady throne. Will the three heroes survive their individual setbacks and the danger lurking in every shadow to come together and unite the seals that will allow the path to light and fortune? Guided by the stars, Amanki, Brina, and Moshoi will do their best to be brave and robust, even in the darkest of times.
Refugees is the first in the Mud, Rocks and Trees series. A fantasy story drawn up in the epic variety, it is the debut novel from scholar and history enthusiast R. A. Denny. The books are not stand-alone and should be read in the following order:
- Book 5 – TBA
- Book 6 – TBA
Set in a fantasy world full of intrigue and the design of mystery, I was pulled into the individual stories of all three characters (as well as a fourth, the cheeky Cat Rider, Prince Metlan) and I was impressed with the character development. Each personality is singular and distinct, including that of the man tasked with educating the young pupils, Baskrod. There is an undertone of religion that is never preachy or overdone, and I am curious to see how the author will expand upon it in the continuation of the series. In the typical fantastical state of the genre, there are multiple gods to be worshipped. The most widely accepted of those is Adon, and I did not miss the similarities to be found in the Christian faith.
This book is a perfect read for younger fantasy lovers, and ideal for ages 10+. I’ve found that the epic fantasy world can sometimes be found lacking for this particular age bracket, as so many fantasy authors want to add graphic violence, sex, and language to their stories for impact. While this doesn’t bother me or steer me away from reading them, it does make me take them off the table as prospective books for my mid-grade and young adult reader here at home. As a parent, I don’t feel that every genre needs those aspects in a book to make it interesting to readers, and I would happily and with confidence pass this series along to either one of my children. The showcase of a classic quest is always something that I find interesting, as do most other readers, and Refugees mostly hit the mark on that one. I need further explanation on the seals and their true purpose, but I’m guessing that more is to come as this is a series set over six novels.
Giving the book 4 out of 5 stars, I have to stay that it was because I was left wanting more. I wanted more description of the land as a whole instead of just the individual aspects of the empire. What connects each section of the world to the next? How is it that some tribes have never heard of Webbies, Gliders, or rock people? I found Brina’s character to be the most relatable and the most *real*, as she showed genuine emotions that were appropriate to the things that were happening to her and around her. This was something I found lacking in the male perspectives, and I feel that if some emotion was added to their demeanor, readers would find it easier to connect. All in all, this is an impressive debut for any author, as the world of Tzoladia is completely build-able and has endless room to grow.
Readers can find the first novel of this series on Amazon for free (!!) and I recommend it to lovers of quests and hunts of treasure, as well as mid-grade and young adult fantasy enthusiasts. Readers who found The Adventurers Guild and The Golden Compass series will also enjoy Mud, Rocks and Trees.