David L. Howells,
Vanessa: Fallen Colors
(Protea, 2003)

I was actually somewhat hesitant to read Vanessa: Fallen Colors -- only because I have enjoyed David L. Howells' Vanessa novels tremendously, and I knew this was the fifth and final book in a series I don't want to end. In many ways, Howells saved his best for last, as this is probably the most engaging book of the series, especially in terms of the core storyline about a special child who sees and talks to a being that may very well be an angel. When Howells breaks away to talk about the Family, a somewhat unwieldy number of individuals (both living and deceased) whose work to find and help restless spirits pass on to the next plane has been the foundation of this series, some of the focus is lost, however. There are just so many subplots and storylines thrown into the overall mix by this point that even central figures such as Vanessa and Ryan Fitzgalen, the leaders of the Family, have become minor characters.

Vanessa: Fallen Colors is constructed around a youngster named Alex Halder, a highly functional autistic child who comes to the attention of the Family when his caring physicians seek help in understanding an "imaginary" friend named Anna that seems to be a guardian angel of sorts. Melissa Banks of the Family quickly grows to care for the child just as much as Dr. Maxwell Forrester and Nurse Physician Kristy Lange. Not only does Alex speak to an unknown entity at night, he also sees mysterious globes of light that even the experts of the Family are hard pressed to explain -- as even their ghosts and spirit-detecting members cannot identify any presence in those same locations.

At the same time, there are increasing signs of something very big on the horizon. In this future year of 2049, the long-feared California earthquake of epic proportions seems imminent, and disturbing geological changes in the area underneath Old Faithful harbor possibilities of doom and gloom. As the Family begins to sense these imminent epic changes taking place, the truth about young Alex's friend Anna is revealed, and a crucial message is communicated that will change everything and everybody.

Along the way, of course, all of the many Family teams go out on missions to the restless spirits still walking the earth. While these individual stories are interesting, they take place rather late in the novel and take one's focus away from the heart of the story just before the mysteries of that heart are seemingly about to be revealed. There seems to be so much left to tell, yet one watches the number of remaining pages shrink drastically as one follows these tangential sub-plots.

The big question for me was how this novel -- and this series -- would end. Everything pointed to an earth-shaking conclusion of almost unimaginable proportions. I was a little disappointed that Howells backed away from describing those events firsthand. It is somewhat understandable, though, as he would have needed a complete novel to really tell the story -- which makes me even sadder to see this series end here. These are wonderful characters I have grown to love over the course of the five Vanessa novels, and I really would like to know their individual fates. Instead, Howells closes things out with a coda offering tantalizing hints of what happens to Earth and the Family. I am not saying the ending is not successful; I just want more -- more of these characters and more of these books.

David L. Howells has written an exceedingly human series of five novels. Maybe they aren't perfect in their construction and execution, but they are extremely effective and heart-warming books unlike anything else out there. Reading them has been not only a joy, but a blessing as well.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 29 January 2005

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