N. J. Simmonds’s debut novel ‘The Path Keeper’ is scheduled for release in February 2017. It’s the first of a series of fantasy novels aimed at young adults, but suitable for any age group that appreciates good writing and can suspend belief and get lost in the story.
Heroine Ella – Arabella Imaculada Santiago De Los Rios to give her her full name – is torn between two lovers. There’s mysterious poor boy Zac, and decorative but slightly dim rich boy Josh. Ella is angst-ridden, because she’s been hauled away from her home in southern Spain to London, where she’s expected to play happy families with her mother Felicity and her stepfather Richard.
Ella’s disposition isn’t really improved when Richard – who she actually loves and respects a lot more than her Mum – insists on adopting her, so that they can all share the same surname. Ella in combination with Richard’s surname Fantz means she’s ridiculed and called Dumbo (Ella Fantz, geddit?). Unfortunately, this rather cruel name-calling follows her to London, where she’s rather like a fish out of water until her chance meeting with Zac.
Ella is both foul mouthed and feisty – in fact Zac says she has ‘The face of an angel and the mouth of a sailor.’ She’s also very vulnerable and troubled. She could easily become a caricature of a stroppy teenager, but Simmonds’s clever and insightful characterisation is far too subtle and clever for that to happen. Ella could be anybody’s daughter, and that’s what makes this story so poignant and believable, despite – or maybe because of – the fantasy angle.
Of course, there’s a love story in the mix, but it’s completely different to the normal ‘boy meets girl, will they/ won’t they?’’ stuff. In the course of the novel, Zac and Ella engage in deep and insightful discussions on life, love, death and religion, and Ella learns more about her mysterious lover, who has a knack of appearing out of nowhere every time she thinks of him. The discussions never get too deep or involved though, since Simmonds’s wicked sense of humour can’t help but shine through when you’re least expecting it. Zac tells Convent-educated Ella that God doesn’t exist, and she comes back with:
‘How come some guys wrote about God and Jesus and millions have worshipped it for 2,000 years if it’s all a load of bollocks?’
Under this rather cynical carapace though, Ella is just a lost, lonely, frightened little girl, as Zac is only too aware. Zac knows everything about Ella, because he is both special and mysterious. As they flee to Spain in search of a happy ending, he accounts for all the swearing and shouting by telling her ‘I realise your words are a carriage for your fear.’
Simmonds often uses Zac and Ella’s discussions on life, religion and love as a vehicle for her acerbic wit and word play, as this conversation illustrates:
Ella: We’ve done nothing wrong. We love each other, and doesn’t that mean anything?
Zac: Apparently not.
Ella: But you said all you need is love.
Zac: No, you’re mistaking me for the Beatles. I said all there is is love, and sometimes even that isn’t enough.
There is laughter, love, happiness, joy and profanity in ‘The Path Keeper.’ There is also loss, tragedy, mistakes and mayhem. Unfortunately, there can be no happy ending, because once we learn Zac’s secret,that can never be an option, even in a fantasy novel such as this. That’s suspending disbelief a step too far. However, there is hope at the end of The Path Keeper – hope for a future where love will be enough, and where families can be truly happy, when all the secrets are out in the open.