N.M. Browne,
(Bloomsbury, 2004)

In Basilisk, N.M. Browne has created not just one complete world, but two, both so intricately detailed as to defy disbelief.

Between the Combers and Abovers, resentment has been building for two generations. Those who fled the city of Lunnzia as it was overrun by the Arkel and his followers (self-proclaimed messengers of the god Arche') were forced underground, literally. Haunting the catacombs beneath the city, these exiles built a new society, based on hardship, resilience and dependence on treaties granted from those above.

It is a difficult life, and many long for the world topside, even those who were born below. Yet not all is well Above, either. Persecution is standard treatment, and Lunnzia has quickly become a dictatorship of religious extremists. A free and prosperous city just one generation before, its now citizens commonly freeze or starve to death.

Into these disparate societies, fantastic characters are born.

Rej, a comber with a past which insures him a brief future, and Donna, who is loyal to the Arkel but still remembers the time before, a childhood filled with happiness and freedom.

When Rej finds himself forced above and Donna is selected to assist him in fitting in, they find they are not so different as appearances and long-held prejudices might suggest. Especially when they sleep. ... Somehow, they are connected by the dreams they share, dreams of such beauty and light that neither wishes to return to reality.

Unfortunately, a darkness stalks them, shadowing their perfect world. The fight in which they find themselves unwitting heroes is viciously political -- and deadly. Mere teenagers, it is up to them to save the world.

This is a harsher example of social commentary than I usually expect to find in young-adult literature. It is uncompromising, and frighteningly realistic. For this reason alone, I would certainly recommend it. Although there is great adversity, there is redemption, and that is a valuable lesson.

On the other hand, I shy away from the sexual openness of the characters, which I think is a bit blatant for younger readers. No adult should find it excessive, but themes are explored which I think are too mature for some teens.

The writing is tight and pulls you from situation to resolution with no down time. The story is compelling from start to finish.

N.M. Browne is one to watch, I'd be interested in reading her previous works, Hunted, Warriors of Alvana and Warriors of Camlann, as well.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 17 April 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.