Review: THE WITCH OF ZAL by Kerry Gans

the-witch-of-zal-coverTHE WITCH OF ZAL by Kerry Gans is a magical story with an array of popular elements sure to appeal to a wide range of readers at all ages. First published on November 11, 2015, by Evil Jester Press through Amazon and spanning a light 221 pages, the book is a fun read that goes by much quicker than you might think.

Leaning heavily on the themes of other familiar literary works and targeted more towards younger readers, the story evolves into a complex hero’s journey that dips a toe into many sub-genres. Science Fiction and Fantasy would be the obvious front runners, but you could also make safe arguments for Steampunk, Dystopian, Action Adventure, and even Mystery.

Twelve-year-old Dorveday Gaelrothi is a freethinking girl who doesn’t like the dystopian world she lives in. After running away from home with her robotic dog Robo in tow, she descends into The Depths where Misfits like herself dwell. Dorveday stumbles into a mysterious bookstore where she gets a device called a dimensional bridger, which whisks her away to another dimension – a land called Oz.

From here, our heroine meets an odd band of fantastic characters who join her on her journey to the Emerald City, all in hopes of getting back home with the help of the Wizard. Joining the girl is a Victorian scarecrow, a clockwork tinman, and of course, a cowardly lion. The difference however in this tale from the original is a young boy name Cian who plays a significant role in Dorveday’s character development

Gans acknowledges L. Frank Baum for his children’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but there are many more writers that should get an influential nod as well. The quintessential dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell rings heavy in this story with similar social political elements and the suppression of freewill could be compared to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. If this book can lead some younger readers to discover (or re-discover) these classics, then it is well worth the price of admission with that feat alone.

At first glance, The Witch of Zal has the look and feel of fan-fiction with so much inspiration, both direct and indirect, from the works of others. Fandom purists may frown on this aspect of the novel because a lot of the joy gleaned from literature today comes from the fresh new ideas that continuously challenge the reader’s imagination. That’s not to say this book does not offer some brilliant new elements, it just leans on a lot of old ones that some may find tiring.

One such fresh idea is a creature called Zombicorns. The name suggests a macabre beast that may have some resemblance to the magical unicorn. Not so. These rainbow colored horses have a single horn on their head with the sole purpose to “drain the energy from your brain,” leaving the victim to roam around as zombies until their bodies eventually decompose. Brilliant. I’ll never look at an image of a unicorn the same way again.

What author Gans has created is a magical world that just might open other doors for younger readers. She has taken this insight a step further by offering educators some useful tools to help kids experience the book in other ways, including a teacher’s guide and a complete list of discussion questions.

The Witch of Zal by Kerry Gans is a book about two journeys. One taken by a heroine who travels to a magical land, and one taken by readers who get to experience a re-imagined classic with a few fresh twists.

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