Book Review: Spirit Touched: A Caleyna Summoner Tale

daweTitle: Spirit Touched: A Caleyna Summoner Tale
Publisher: Wild Hunt Press
Author: Jolene Dawe
Pages: 30 pp
Price: .99 (Kindle Edition)*

Long ago, the world ended. The Gods opened the box of miseries and terrors and nightmares, and then left. No one knows why. No one knows where they went. Only five remained: Briga the Flamekeeper; Ganglern, the Lord of Ways; Plon, Keeper of the Stars; Therna, Headwoman of the Heavens; and Mudramorta, the Dread Mother. These five continue to watch over humanity, and to train those few mortals whose magical talents allow them to face down and defeat the nightmares which stalk the world. One such woman is Caleyna, now surnamed Summoner, after she answered the Gods’ call …. And it will take all of Caleyna’s training and courage to face down the nightmares that she finds along the road to Riverbend Haven ….

I loved this story. Absolutely loved it. Dawe has done an amazing job of building an entire world in only thirty short pages: a polytheistic, magical, pre-industrial society, the few cities and small farming communities connected by even fewer roads. And while those roads are carefully maintained, they are still dangerous. Malevolent spirits, ghosts, moonwisps, bloodsickle, and assorted other monsters are known to terrorize travelers. Alone, without her Shadow or her eaglen Mecklin, exhausted and hungry, Caleyna finds herself facing down first a bloodsickle and then … well … no spoilers. But, if Caleyna thought a carnivorous, bone-crushing, life-sucking plant was the worst thing she would face on her journey, she was very wrong.

And if there is anyone who can overcome that terrible thing, it is Caleyna Summoner. She is a terrific character: experienced and self-assured and devoted to her Gods and her calling, willing to take risks when necessary, but also willing to reach out to allies (trees, bees, nature spirits, the Gods, the sun, her Shadow) when she knows that she needs help. I particularly like the fact that she comes across as older; Dawe never gives her exact age, but Caleyna feels close to middle-aged, to me; she’s not some arrogant, know-it-all newbie on her first mission.

The world in which Caleyna lives is both terrifying and beautiful, populated by creatures both familiar and strange.  The moonwisps, for example: ghostly and red-clawed, prone to attacking in swarms. Friendly, protective trees such as hardapple, waterwood, oak, and weeper’s willow, provide human communities with both raw materials and a safe haven. And bees do not go just anywhere; their presence is a blessing, a sign that the humans have learned to live in balance with the land and its spirits.

Spirit Touched is a terrific addition to the growing library of contemporary polytheist literature. There’s action, narrow escapes, magic, monsters, Gods — and the promise of more to come. Highly recommended to fans of CSE Cooney’s Bone Swans, CS MacCath, Juli D Revezzo, Rebecca Chastain’s Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles, Tina Gower’s Romancing the Null, Annie Bellet’s Twenty-Sided Sorceress series, and Meghan Ciana Doidge’s Dowser series.

* Currently available only for the kindle and kindle app, though Dawe is working on making it available through more platforms.