Book one of the Portals of Destiny is The Chosen, and Shay Fabbro takes reader to five planets with distinct environments, beings, and cultures. From their prophetic scrolls, the Gentrans know of the horror of the Mekans, planet-invading machines that remove all minerals and resources, essentially killing all inhabitants and rendering a planet lifeless. And they are coming.
The Gentrans, a water-dwelling race whose description brings to mind a soft, multi-colored sea horse, see hope in a small group of individuals on each of four other planets — Earth, Volgon, Astra and Kromin. Prophets on Gentra guide the Masters, and they cultivate a group of four Guardians, each of whom will work with the Chosen on a designated planet. On the planets, the Gentrans take the form of the resident species.
The Chosen are not aware of their destinies. Each group works with its Guardian, who helps them develop for their normal roles on their respective planets. Earth of the future is a more primitive place after climate change destroyed what we think of as modern civilization. Forka (known on earth as General Ted Smith) leads a group of Protectors who help keep safe the residents of an area near “the ruins of city called Denver” from assaults by the vicious Hordes and Cowboys. The action is well-paced, the methods of death at times brutally realistic, and there are some twists that are nicely done. The enchantments blend well into the story.
On Astra, Master Brok (the only Guardian to retain his Gentran name) lives in Heart Stone, where he has a small group of pupils studying to become Mystics, the spiritual leaders for Astran towns and villages. Magic is strong with Mystics.
On Volgon, Gerok is Premier Viisyr, and under him are beings who develop ever more lethal weapons as the Volgons continue their thousand-year fight against the Gorgons. It is a battle that has driven them to live in large underground enclaves, rarely seeing the outside world. Some of the gut-wrenching choices they make will help preserve their race, and the emotion is presented well.
On Kromin, Mirka is Clone 70521 and serves as Research Leader for this group of five emotionless telepaths who report to her as they travel thousands of parsecs to investigate alien planets. For Mirka, their reports represent not simply exploration of other worlds, but a way to learn more about the Mekans’ future path.
The four stories are told in alternating chapters, and the author spends the most time on Earth and Astra, where beings are the most “like us.” On these planets we learn more about the pasts of the Chosen Ones, what they eat, who their family members are, and their day-to-day moods and thoughts — especially, for some, as they relate to potential romances.
The author seems most drawn to Astra, where the characters are more fully developed and the plot most complex. As the Chosen prepare for Midsummer Festival, the planet’s culture and technology bring to mind earth of the 1880s. Much of the story involves an attempted rescue of one of the Chosen, and the travels they undertake to do this provide more insight to the planet and its culture. However, the breadth of Mystics’ magic sometimes seems more like a convenient way to accomplish something difficult. Magic is beautiful, but a reader needs to see it as an integral part of the drama rather than a device, and there are times when its uses could be better blended into the story. The story on Astra is compelling, and I would have been willing read a much longer one. There are also more “lessons” with these characters. For example, the Astran Chosen, Gwen, is a dwarf who demonstrates that size does not determine capabilities, and a reader senses this may be important later.
An attempted rescue of one of the Chosen is also a key component of the story on Earth, where brutality toward enemies is common. In this story, the climate can be an enemy, and one wonders if Fabbro stresses this because lack of willingness to tackle climate change of past centuries is why life is very different than on Earth of the 21st century.
Though there are challenges and dangers on each planet, the Chosen Ones’ preparation blends with their lives and all seems to be moving as the Gentrans planned until misfortune strikes one of General Smith’s Protectors. After having their importance presented to them by their Guardian, the four groups of Chosen pass through portals and take the form of the water-dwelling Gentran.
While the Chosen are taught how to breathe underwater fairly quickly, communication is harder, though the telepaths of Kromin assist, the first time their role seems clearer. However, it is Jon Stone of Astra who finds a way to impart common language comprehension to all — using some seemingly dark magic. Brok is not pleased, and it seems likely that Jon’s talents will be important later.
There is generally a good mix of day-to-day activities and faster-paced action. Many characters describe how they clean up after a battle or trek, and there are a number of references to the need to “freshen up.” There are also regular descriptions of the food they eat. These descriptions are not truly distracting, but they are more detailed than in other action stories and may pull a reader out of the story for a short time.
After time on Gentra, the Gentran Masters instruct the Chosen to use the portals to go to planets other than their own for fourteen days; they are to see understand how the others live so they can “…work together and not let petty differences stand in the way.” They prepare to leave as the book ends.
The only element that seems somewhat out of place is the romantic musing of characters on Earth and Astra. Most is done by the young Astrans, and while it seems trite compared to saving a planet, they don’t know that’s their destiny. But would Forka (aka General Smith) really think about whether it makes sense to develop a relationship while he’s living on Earth? It didn’t seem to fit with the character or his mission.
I liked The Chosen and will read the follow-up books. It will be interesting to see if Fabbro can maintain the stories of each planet as well when the Chosen are working together. Fabbro has developed characters with whom we can empathize and presented the danger of the Mekans well. I hope she takes time to let the story evolve. A lot happened in the last twenty or thirty pages, and at that pace the next book would not have The Chosen’s relatively effective pacing. If Astra is to continue to be a key focus, Fabbro needs to spend more time on its traditions and culture.