Any Which Way by Annastaysia Savage
Twelve year old Sadie has moved to and from several foster homes since her mother died in a car accident. She is bullied at school and called “Crazy Sadie,” by the other students and maybe even a teacher. Sadie is “crazy” because she refuses to believe her mother is dead. She states, emphatically, her belief that her mother is alive and they only need to find each other. Right now, on the verge of her 13th birthday, on Halloween, she simply wants to feel normal. Not special, she says, just normal. Sadie wants a normal house, a normal family, a normal school day, a fairly bland but normal life.
Her best friend, Mrs. Felis, who runs the bookstore Sadie enjoys, is planning a very special birthday party for Sadie. The party will not have references to Halloween, just like Sadie’s mother had thrown. This is a very special birthday, in addition to becoming a teenager, Sadie finds out that her mother was a witch and she is now, at age 13, a witchling: a beginner witch with three years of training ahead of her. Before the party can get going members of the Syndicate arrive. They are trying to eliminate all things magical and especially want the one who knows the whereabouts of the Ataraxia Heart, which is Sadie, sort of. Sadie’s mother was the last keeper of the heart and she gave it to Sadie, but died before she could tell her about the heart and where she hides it. The Syndicate believes Sadie knows exactly where the Ataraxia Heart has been hidden and plans to force it from her. Now there is an all-out war between magical beings and the non-magical Syndicate that wants to put magic forever into History.
Any Which Way has gnomes, giants, fairies, powerful Winds, centaurs, talking cats and other animals, and most of what inhabited other fantasy novels of the past few years. Like most, the central theme is good versus evil. The difference lies in the subjective “feel” of the story. Here that “feel” is lighter and tighter. Scenes progress smoothly from one to the next without once losing its way or using words that do nothing but beef up the word count. The story is well-written, the characters are fully fleshed out, each hook grabs you and the twists are unexpected, turning the story on its side, only to be better when it stands back up.
There are illustrations in the novel that I am told are excellent. I read the Kindle version, and while there were a few black and white pictures, they were placed in such a manner as to not catch the eye. For this reason alone I will not review the illustrator’s work. I am betting that once Any Which Way hits bookstore shelves, someone will see those illustrations and review how they reflect the story and add value for the reader.
I am not a big fan of fantasy, or maybe just a picky fan. I am selective in what I will even take home from the library. Any Which Way I would have taken home, renewed two or three times and still return it late, all because I want to read it again for the things I missed the first time, then again for the very subtle nuances, and a final time to read the story with all the elements open to my eyes. Good fantasies (good stories of any genre), have multiple layers. Any Which Way is nicely layered.
Kids from age eight on up will enjoy reading this book, as will adults who like children’s and young adult books. Parents can feel secure in the knowledge that their child will not be reading anything “dark, decrepit or demoralizing,” but instead have in their hands a fun fantasy with solid characters, a good protagonist, bad guys that can be clumsy, and an ending that their child will want to talk about. If I had six stars to give out, I’d give this book a 5.5 stars (6 stars, I am sure, if I were to see the print version illustrations.
Any Which Way is truly a refreshing fantasy.
note: received book from publisher