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Book Reviews

The Sower of Tales

by Rachna Gilmore

Ottawa writer Rachna Gilmore (whose picture book A Screaming Kind of Day won the 1999 Governor General’s Award for text) delves into the world of juvenile fantasy for the first time, with impressive results. The Sower of Tales is a novel that most fantasy writers would be pleased to call their own. Although recommended for readers 11 to 13, it will delight most readers of the genre, young and older alike.

As successful fantasy must, The Sower of Tales incorporates both considerable originality and, simultaneously, a fidelity to the expected tropes of the genre, including a headstrong heroine, an epic quest, and world-shaping repercussions. What Gilmore does with this standard template, however, is daring in both its ambition and success.

Calantha is Gilmore’s heroine, a young girl soon to be apprenticed. Given her love of the regular village Talemeet – during which the Gatherer brings the harvested story pods to the town square, where they are opened and their tales listened to by the community as a group – and her disinclination for other work, it seems inevitable that Calantha will be apprenticed to the Gatherer. When the story pods disappear, however, Calantha is sent by the village seer and the Gatherer on a quest to find the mythic Sower of Tales and bring stories back to the people of the plains.

While the developments of the tale will be familiar (and inevitable) for anyone familiar with fantasy, the novel is suspensefully rooted in well-drawn characters and emotionally affecting. Gilmore’s created world is impressive and rigorous: it takes considerable reading to feel entirely at home in a place where stories grow from the earth and are celebrated. But that is, in the end, the point. The Sower of Tales is a crucial reminder of the importance of stories in the building of communities and of the dire consequences when those stories are lost or bastardized.