Richard Grant,
Kaspian Lost
(Spike/Avon, 1999)

In Kaspian Lost, Richard Grant picks up teenager Kaspian Aaby, a character introduced in his previous novel In the Land of Winter, and sends him on a bizarre odyssey.

Kaspian's stepmother, the rigid and repressed Carol Deacon Aaby, is less than pleased about Kaspian's involvement with the events in In the Land of Winter. Deciding that public education is the culprit responsible for his behavior, she enrolls him in the American Youth Academy, a private institution known for its structured approach. First, he has to get through the summer, but his stepmother has that all figured out: a camp which is intended to help him acquire the skills he will need for the academy.

Needless to say, Kaspian is less than thrilled at this development. The camp is a dismal experience made even more so by a bullying sycophantic counselor. Fed up, Kaspian simply walks away from the camp, and that's when everything goes haywire. Kaspian comes to his senses four days and about 70 miles later with vague memories of dancing lights, his dead father's voice, small and malevolent leprechauns, and a serene and lovely angel-like girl.

When he returns to the camp, his experience is enough to eventually land him in Washington, D.C., in the American Youth Academy's Model Remediation Program, a project of businessman and AYA founder Jasper Winot. There, Kaspian is surrounded by other "problem" youth and moves through a lockstep program geared toward straightening him out. Kaspian drifts along with the tide, tolerating fellow Maine resident Vernon and enduring counseling sessions with the despicable Thera Boot, whose counseling methods are questionable. But as he does so, memories begin to fall into place, and Kaspian understands that the Jasper Winots, the Thera Boots, the Carol Deacon Abbys of the world don't have a clue. According to their vision, they are in control of their environment, but Kaspian understands that control is illusory and there are things which cannot be explained through logic.

The start of Kaspian Lost is a bit slow. The reader views Kaspian from his point of view, and at times it is difficult to reconcile this perspective with the cheerful and likeable Kaspian from In the Land of Winter. Once Kaspian has his "experience" the pace picks up, and the reader's sympathies rest ultimately with Kaspian in light of the adults who exploit and misuse him. He reveals himself as resourceful, sensitive and perceptive when conditions call for it, as when he and a fellow student are taken to an organization filled with UFO conspiracy nuts. The leaders of the organization are trying to correlate UFOS and aliens with fairy lore, and like so many of the adult characters, they are so exaggerated that they seem realistic.

Kaspian may not have an explanation for what happened to him, but by the end of the novel he is more grounded and capable of controlling his own life -- as long as he leaves room for the unexpected. From Kaspian lost, he is Kaspian found.

In spite of the slow start, the novel moves along smoothly. Readers of Richard Grant's novels have come to expect something a little different, and Kaspian Lost certainly delivers.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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