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The Turning

by Gillian Chan

Ben Larsson, the teenage protagonist of Gillian Chan’s latest YA novel, is confronted by eerie supernatural phenomena while reluctantly accompanying his professor father on his sabbatical in England. Ben finds himself scared and unsettled by the epic battle between good and evil spirits that he’s drawn into, but readers may be less affected. While The Turning is ably written and structured, Chan’s fantasy adventure is seldom sufficiently gripping emotionally and dramatically, provoking only mild engagement with the characters and story.

Grieving the death of his mother, who raised him, Ben is bitterly resentful of his father, with whom he’s had little contact. His troubled relationship with his well-meaning father smoulders with tumultuous emotion, achieving tense drama where the fantasy adventure scenario falls short.

The narration alternates between Ben and Wyliff, a half-tree, half-human green man who needs Ben’s help to defeat the schemes of evil fairies. Their leader Jazriel seeks to overthrow the natural order of the supernatural world by harnessing the spirit of Yvonne, a lonely, vulnerable schoolmate of Ben’s shunned by others since childhood. Ben, with Wyliff’s help, attempts to save her.

Wyliff’s formal narration, peppered with Yoda-like utterances, is more stilted than portentous. A similar stiffness occasionally afflicts Ben’s voice, which sounds like that of an academic, not a contemporary teen. The secondary characters in the fantasy plotline (outside of the gloriously irreverent hobgoblin Billy Blind) are sketchy, mere plot props for the world of the fey, which remains frustratingly insubstantial throughout.