a review by Liam Merrick
Crossing Over is the story of a young teen, Roger. When in pain, Roger crosses over to the land of the dead. It is this ability that is abused by his cruel Uncle, Hartah. Roger, his uncle Hartah and Aunt Jo travel to fairs where Roger is savagely beaten and forced to cross over to the land of the dead. Here he can learn the secrets of the recently dead, earning his uncle coin. Aunt Jo, like Roger is bullied and terrifed by Hartah. Now, why doesn’t Roger just leave this abusive situation? The simple answer, he’s a coward. He doesn’t want to risk himself with the dangers of the outside world.
It is not until a major event (spoiler free review!) that Roger is forced on his own. He makes his way to the Palace of the Queendom. Yes, you read that right, it is the Queens that rule the land. This was one of the more interesting parts of the novel, but more on that later. Roger finds himself first in the laundry with the commoners before being unexpectedly placed at the Green Queen’s side. You see, the Palace is in the middle of a Civil War/Cold War type situation. The Blue Queen, by ancient law, should have passed her crown down to her daughter (The Green Queen) when she reached 25 years of age. However, when she refused to do this, the Green Queen crowned herself (rather unsuccessfully). And while most of the Palace supports The Blue Queen, some are loyal to her daughter. We watch this from the Green Queen’s viewpoint.
I recently read Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. Now, why would I tell you this in a review for another book? Because I believe that one of the factors that affect how much you enjoy a book depends on what you have recently read, and how it compares to your current book. I think that few readers would argue that Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller, so how does Anna Kendall match up?
In Crossing Over, Anna Kendall sets up a very interesting world. I found the vast descriptions of Palace life interesting. The rival courts, the class divide and the day to day life was all very fascinating. Also, the land of the dead, a most vital part of the story played out well, especially when the land of the living began to act as a mirror. But unlike Stardust, I didn’t care about any of the characters, nor the plot itself. I really didn’t care.
I found out after reading this novel that it was aimed at a YA reader. Looking back, I can think of two main techniques used to relate to her reader. The first is that her main character, Roger is a teenage boy. So he is, in theory, the same age as many of her readers. The second is that Roger, as a young man is occasionally getting erections (often in embarrassing and public locations). Now I believe that this was another way of relating to the teenage males reading, it came off as awkward and just didn’t work.
While I thought the writing was in places effective, that’s not what I look for in a novel. I want to be drawn in by the characters and get lost in their world. I don’t want to be thinking about how that was an interesting way of solving a possible plot hole, because when that happens I’m out of the story. This is Anna Kendall’s first novel and it shows. I’m in two minds about reading the follow up (Dark Mist Rising, not yet released), because even if the world is interesting, is there much point reading a story if you care nothing for the characters?
This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.