Sometimes, you need something simple. A simple story from a simple time. Which brings me to today’s book: Farworld.
This is a very generic fantasy book for kids. And in that regard, it works very well. I should know; I was a kid when I read it. I remember enjoying it a lot at the time. But I was roughly… eleven years old, I think? Doesn’t matter; the point is, that was then and this is now. And now I’m a cynical critic! So the question is: does this book hold up to my nostalgia?
Follow up question: am I a loser for critiquing a book meant for children that came out about a decade ago? The answer to that is a solid maybe.
This story is everything a kid’s book should be. It’s simple, it’s engaging, and it’s fun. Sure, it’s a bit cliche. But it’s pretty well-executed, so who cares?
Our main hero is Marcus, a wheelchair-bound boy trapped in an abusive orphanage. To escape his miserable life, he daydreams of a place he likes to call Farworld, a place where magic is common and magical beings live all over the place. Little does he know that Farworld is, in fact, a real place! One that is being threatened by the mysterious Dark Circle, which plans to kill Marcus for mysterious reasons! When Marcus magically travels to Farworld, he meets a magicless girl named Kyja and her teacher, Master Therapass, who holds a secret prophecy that could change the fate of both worlds. In order to stop the Dark Circle, Marcus and Kyja must travel to the four keeps of the elementals and get help from them, starting with Water Keep.
This book plays with the premise of the two worlds in a super clever way! There are many times where the characters are faced with obstacles in one world that they can only overcome in the other. This makes the whole premise feel genuinely important to the plot, as well as adding an extra layer of tension; world travel isn’t easy, especially given how both of our characters are crippled in one of the worlds (Marcus is bound to a wheelchair in the normal world, Kyja has no magic in Farworld). It’s an interesting twist on a cliche premise that makes both worlds feel genuinely important and intertwined.
Unfortunately, Farworld is a very cliche fantasy setting. There are a few interesting twists, such as the reasoning for the Elementals to seal themselves away (as well as the Elementals themselves, but that comes into play more in book two than this one). But the rest of the world is pretty uninteresting. Human societies are your typical fantasy land fare and the Dark Circle is just about the most cliche fantasy cult of all time. For god’s sake, they even use an army of the dead!
Thankfully, the setting isn’t the central focus of the story. That honor is clearly given to the characters. Which is good, because the characters are pretty good! Marcus and Kyja are your typical ‘will-they-won’t-they’ teenage protagonists, but they’re executed very well. They have excellent chemistry with one another, with a naturally developing friendship and conflict that makes the story much more engaging.
It also has a pretty satisfying ending. It doesn’t do much to wrap up the overall conflict. But I wouldn’t expect it to, given that it’s clearly supposed to be book one of four. It manages to wrap up the story of Waterkeep well while setting the stage for the next one pretty well. It’s a nice wrap-up on the first major chunk of the story.
All in all, this is a decently solid kid’s book. You can still get some enjoyment out of it as an older reader. Plus, you should be able to knock it out pretty quickly. But it’s definitely more enjoyable for the target audience. Believe me, I’m speaking with experience from both ends of the spectrum.
If you’re in the mood for a simple, cliche fantasy story, I’d recommend Farworld: Waterkeep. If you have a kid who’s into those things, pass this along to them. It’s fun and memorable, albeit a tad cliche. It’s executed more than well enough to make it worth your time.
Now, Farworld books two and three? Those are the shit!