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March 22, 2018

Review & Excerpt: Looking for Dei by David A. Willson #Giveaway

by MK French

Nara Dall hated the scar on her back and the secrets she had to keep about magic abilities she had. Every three years, a ceremony is held to find those with magic, but no one had been found in her village in decades. Once she fixes that, she and her best friend are on the run with her adoptive father. There are larger secrets than the ones she knows, which draws attention from those in political and religious power.
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Looking for Dei
March 2018; Seeker Press; 978-0999615027
ebook, print (350 pages); epic fantasy
Nara starts off as a rather sweet and innocent character. Despite all of the pain she endures throughout the story, her spirit remains unbroken and the same. It's interesting how she and Kayna, her twin, have affinities for magic that are opposites of each other. Even their natures are opposite, which is pointed out through their actions. I like that it's up to us to realize this about the characters, and we are shown the nuances in their motivations over time rather than told outright. The changing perspectives take a bit of getting used to, but the world building and magic system are very well done and drew me in.

The ending of the book is tied off rather neatly, but there are still possibilities for another book in this world. I'd be interested to see what happens to the land and the twins, and how the prophecies play out.

Buy Looking for Dei at Amazon

Read an Excerpt:

Village of Dimmitt
Southeastern Corner of the Great Land 665PB

"Slow down," Mykel said, clearly winded. "I can barely keep up!"

Mykel's plea made Nara realize how fast she had been running, but she didn't want to stop. Perhaps she was propelled by the antici- pation of tomorrow's ceremony, but although the climb often exhausted her, it was no challenge today. She wasn't even breathing hard.

Upon reaching the top, they turned to look down upon the village. They stood far above Dimmitt, past the altitude where trees gave way to bushes and grasses. It had been months since they last ascended the mountain, but they had never run so fast. The fervor of the exertion served as a welcome break from the preparations for tomorrow's big event.

Mykel came up beside her, out of breath, and together they looked out over their village. She dared a glance at him, not wanting him to know her thoughts. He was dark-skinned, and she was pale. They shared so much in common: their love of the wild, of animals, and of the sea. Over the years, after completing their school, church, or family duties, they would race across the island—up the hills or the mountain, picking berries or fishing. Sometimes they would spy on other villagers or build a raft and paddle around a cove. They had become inseparable.

"What's the smile for?" Mykel asked.

"I've never seen the village so busy," she answered. “It seems so alive. Has it really been that long since the last ceremony?"

"Three years," he said.

The residents of Dimmitt appeared as tiny ants, and just as busy. They were setting up tables in the field outside the church and Nara worried that her absence might soon be noticed. She had been assigned cooking and cleaning duties today, but Mykel's challenge to race up the mountain just couldn't be passed up.

"Bitty, are you worried?" Mykel asked. "About the ceremony, I mean."

She smiled. It was an apt nickname; she was indeed small. He only used it in private, though, and never meant it to be an insult.

"Not really."

Every few years the announcement ceremony was supposed to bring great hope to the community—for magic and for wealth. Sadly, Dimmitt had not announced a gifted youth in many years. Yet, villagers held out hope that one would come soon. She had heard many folks speaking this way in recent weeks, about how it had been so long since a gifted had been announced that it must happen this time, right? Perhaps their optimism was a blessing, hardy hearts that dwelled on the positive despite all evidence to the contrary. Or perhaps their hope was a survival strategy produced by spirits that couldn't bear to consider another three years of hunger. Another three years of abandonment by their god.

Children who recently entered adolescence would submit to the ceremony, and if gifted children were identified, it could be transformative for the village. Not only would they earn money in royal service or private employment, but the magic was a gift from Dei. A divine blessing. A reminder that they were loved.

A child announced as a flamer could produce magical fire. A cutter could cleave flesh or even armor. A bear had magical strength. Announced as a knitter, a child would attend the Royal Academy of Medicine, where she would develop and refine her healing skills. A watcher might become a great hunter, with vision that would detect animals from far away and could help feed others in the village. If announced as a harvester, she would collect magic for others to use. That magic would come from living things such as plants or, sadly, from sacrificed animals. Each of these gifted youths would earn his or her fortune in the military or serving the crown, sending earnings home to battle the poverty that threatened to overwhelm them all.

Nara thought of the children of her village. It amazed her how resilient the little ones were, and she longed to bring good things to them. She had heard stories of the rich folks in big cities who ate every day and whose children always had shoes. If they could see the children in Dimmitt, if they could know how precious they were, they would help, wouldn't they? Maybe they just didn't know what it was like to be hungry and cold.

The thoughts fed a guilt within her that had been growing for years. Tomorrow's announcement might be very different for her. Although she had never endured an announcement ceremony, she had manifested gifts long ago, and not just one talent. She had several. Would the ceremony reveal her magic to all? Reveal that she had been hoarding it rather than using it to help feed her neighbors? Would they understand that it wasn't her fault, that she had been forced to keep it secret from them? Would they care? Would Mykel care? Would he judge her for her sins and abandon their friendship because of it?

She wondered how it would feel to have the sharp blade pierce her skin. "I've heard it doesn't hurt much," she lied, rubbing her right palm.

"I've heard that too."

A thin-bladed dagger called a ceppit was the instrument used by the priest to reveal a youth's magic potential. The priest would intone a prayer and use the ceppit to impale each child's palm. The ceppit acted as a catalyst to awaken dormant talent in the child.

With a non-gifted child there would be pain, no power would manifest, and they would be bandaged and forgotten. Poverty would pave their future as they assumed a mundane role among the villagers, a lifestyle of subsistence and struggle, as their parents had done.

Some children had a different destiny entirely. Eons had passed since the last cursed child was identified in Dimmitt, but several years ago one had been announced in the village of Fulsk. A prosperous town, Fulsk sat on an island to the south. Fillion was a tall, affable boy, so they said. Nara knew someone who used to go fishing with him. But Fillion was dead.

Nara hadn't been present, but she had heard about it from others. The ceremony started as they all did, with screaming, crying, and the blood of children dripping onto the stage. Then it was Fillion's turn.
As the story went, when the dagger pierced the boy's palm, everything changed. Fillion fell to his knees, his face went white, mouth open in horror, and a stifled squeal left his throat. Blood oozed from multiple fissures on his head, neck, and arms. By the time the priest pulled the dagger from his palm, it was over.

The boy's death reminded folks of the gamble all children took when they participated in the announcement ceremony. Not that they had a choice; participation was compulsory and must be completed between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. It was an act of service mandated by the crown, and according to the church, by Dei.

"If you are announced with a gift, what will you do?" Nara asked. "I don't know, but I won't stay here."

"I would miss you."

"No you wouldn't, because you'd come with me!"

Nara smiled at him. "Of course I would." But she wasn't so sure. Bylo was here, the only family she had ever known. She would also miss the mountain and the lagoon, the dogs that played in the streets and the smell of fish on the docks. As poor and simple as it was, Dimmitt was her home.

"We should head back," Nara said. Dimmitt's priest would return late tonight, and little time remained to finish preparations before tomorrow's feast.

"I'll race you again!" challenged Mykel.

It took far less time to get to the bottom of the mountain than it had to climb up, but it was not without difficulty. Sweat dotted Nara's brow, and her hair became even messier than it had been atop the windy peak.

As they entered the periphery of the village, Mykel waved goodbye and headed home. Nara waved back, glancing over her shoulder to watch as her friend disappeared over a hill. She walked slowly, not because of her fatigue but rather to calm her anxious heart.

For tomorrow may reveal the secret she had been keeping for years.

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Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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