Conquering the Divide: The Legend of Barsicon Is an Outstanding Fantasy Fiction Debut by Angela Stever

Book Review

Title: Conquering the Divide: The Legend of Barsicon
Author:  Angela Stever
Imprint: Tellwell Talent
Released: October 30, 2021
Pages: 284
ISBN-13: 978-0228863120
Stars:  4.00

Conquering the Divide: The Legend of Barsicon is new, young adult, LGBTQ-friendly fantasy/dystopian science-fiction for the 21st-century by well-known Kingston, Ontario radio host, Angela Stever. The book’s hero, Seneca Ellis-Brant, is a girl just turning 16 years old, and she’s the youngest Light Seeker in Barsicon history. Seneca has been training her whole life to be a Light Seeker with the help of her two moms, Ma Marie and Mama C (Catherine), and her combat instructor, JD, a diminutive warrior with a neon-coloured mohawk.

In July 2022, two days before the Light Ceremony she believes it is her destiny to conquer, Seneca meets Alex, JD’s cousin, who is referred to using the pronouns they/them. Alex is the first stranger Seneca has ever met, a popular singer in Light City, and sexual-spiritual fireworks ensue.

Seneca has trained diligently for the Light Ceremony, believing that she will complete it and be able to move her family from The Darkness, the land to the east of Light City, inhabited by the 1% elite of Barsicon on the shores of West Ocean. To gain the privilege of living in Light City, Light Seekers must successfully complete Seven Steps into the Light, Steps that amount to a battle to the death. But has Seneca been brainwashed? Is the story she has been told about her miraculous birth true? Is she simply a pawn in a very toxic game?

Light City is ruled by President Barbara Crow, an angry woman with daddy issues whose father, General Walter Crow (a comic book buffoon of a bullying leader, with no real backbone), demanded the construction of a wall between Light City and The Darkness following the Battle of Barsicon in 1972. Northern Warriors erected the barrier which runs parallel to the coastline, two miles inland from the West Ocean. Only the wealthy live along the West Ocean, its residents made up of people who sleep until noon and feast until midnight, playing games and dancing all day. The wall offers them protection from the ‘unworthy.’

While reading this book—which could arguably be a parable—during the middle of the umpteenth lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, one cannot help but recognize the parallels in the world in which we live and the authors’ world of Barsicon, a simply constructed, dystopian fantasy world. Many of us are seeking a higher spiritual path in light of the darkness we have found ourselves in for the past two years. The 1% elite who govern us and decide upon how we will conduct ourselves and live our lives, have divided us with vaccine mandates, passports, and other draconian restrictions. In today’s world, there is a divide between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, people who are described by the media and even our own Prime Minister, as unworthy to live in regular society. It may only be a matter of time before we are physically segregated from each other, even though many of us can see that our leaders’ plan to deal with the pandemic is not working. Right now, most of our lives are about survival and not thriving, just like the citizens of Barsicon who live in The Darkness.

There are psychopaths and unexpected twists and turns in Conquering the Divide, and a little bit of magic, lots of mystery, and plenty of heart-centered heroes to cheer for. If you loved The Hunger Games or The Mortal Instruments, you’ll want to join Seneca as she discovers her new normal and realizes her true destiny, moving out of The Darkness and into the light. This fast-paced, exciting adventure is filled with nuggets of spiritual wisdom and a satisfying ending that will leave you wanting more.

Angela Stever has peppered her story with “Easter egg” references to local singer-songwriters who music fans in this region, know and love, and named the main protagonist and another heroic character after her two sons. I suspect she may have used Prince Edward County and Sandbanks Provincial Park as inspiration for Barsicon. Conquering the Divide (available on Amazon now) is her first novel, and it is an outstanding debut. This reader cannot wait for more stories by Stever.

May the God of Light’s Final Judgement find you worthy before you are forced to die for the greater good. “The power should be in the hands of the people, not in the hands of one man.” As in all fantasy stories, there is a battle between good and evil, and the protagonists have to overcome seemingly impossible challenges to defeat their adversaries.  Sometimes the men in power are simply weak, bullying idiots being controlled by psychopathic puppet masters. And sometimes, it takes standing up to our oppressors and being willing to start a revolution before the light can shine through The Darkness.

The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither by Lauren DeStefano is a Winner!

Book Review
Title: The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Released: March 2011
Pages: 368
ISBN-10: 1442409053
ISBN-13: 978-1-4424-0905-7
Stars: 4.0

I am a fortunate recipient of an advance reader’s copy of debut novelist Lauren DeStefano’s The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither, published by Simon & Schuster. Wither is the first piece of this dystopian puzzle and although it is recommended for ages 14+, I was charmed by it and could not put it down. Wither is a refreshing, unique and dazzling story (despite comparisons made to The Handmaid’s Tale), filled with compelling characters that leap off the page. While it does raise a few questions, I chose not to analyze the life out of it and just enjoyed it for the pleasurable fantasy read that it is. I can already completely envision the movie version and don’t think I’m remiss in saying that fans of the Twilight series will undoubtedly enjoy this too.

In the not-too-distant future, Earth has almost been entirely obliterated by a viral plague created through genetic engineering that has wiped out every continent except for North America. In this nightmare, males only live to be 25-years-old and females only live to age 20, raising the questions, “What if you knew when you were going to die?” How would you choose to live your life?

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is a beautiful, intelligent orphan with hemochromatic eyes (one brown, one blue) who has been kidnapped by “Gatherers” and sold at auction as a bride to a rich governor. She is torn away from the only life she knows in an almost unrecognizable Manhattan where her twin brother Rowan works in a factory to support them while it’s her job to keep their ramshackle home safe from looters.

Rhine isn’t a special victim, but rather the norm, as there are few things left for young women in this new world to do but be sold into slavery to propagate the species. Only the beautiful are chosen as brides while the others become prostitutes or are murdered.

Rhine finds herself living in a picturesque but sinister Florida mansion – decorated with holograms and steeped in illusion – and wedded to a naïve, young Governor Linden Ashby. Linden, a would-be architect, is mourning the impending death of his true love and first wife, Rose, while being completely controlled by his creepy, geneticist father, Housemaster Vaughn (a first generation who didn’t succumb to the plague), who lets everyone think he’s working on an antidote for the fatal disease.

Rhine has two sister wives: (polygamy is also not unusual in this new world) 13-year-old Cecilia, a bratty redhead who was born in an orphanage and never knew her parents – so has little problem adjusting to life as a rich man’s child bride – and 18-year-old Jenna, a sad, introverted brunette whose sisters are murdered in the same van she was taken away in when she was captured.

Rhine befriends Rose, who soon dies, and whose body is mysteriously transported to the basement, never to be given a proper funeral. Cecilia takes her place as Linden’s new lover, and before long becomes pregnant with his child. Jenna’s relationship with her husband is only sexual as she refuses to give him her heart, while Rhine rejects the consummation of her marriage and instead befriends a kind and empathetic servant named Gabriel whom she comes to trust. (It was a little hard to believe that she would have been able to continuously deny her husband who clearly had his way with the others.)

On the outside, Rhine’s world is one of glamour, parties, growing friendships with her sister wives and an orange grove utopia, while the reality is one of ugly secrets, danger and the dance of the Grim Reaper.

This first person narrative is thoughtfully conveyed in Rhine’s voice, with moral dilemmas always close to the surface, and her relationships with the other characters are as well developed and realistic as they can be in a science fiction setting. We know Rhine is biding her time by pretending to want to be Linden’s first wife until she can figure out a way to escape. We also know that there’s something inherently evil going on in the basement of the mansion and that although Vaughn is supposedly carrying out DNA experiments to find a cure, nothing is what it appears to be. We also know by the end of this page turner that we’re not going to get to know what happens to Rhine and Gabriel until the next edition of the trilogy. By then, you will be completely sucked into the story and will have to read the next book! And believe me, I will.

Bravo Lauren DeStefano! You’re going to have a very successful writing career.