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Review: The Dryad’s Kiss by R. Scott VanKirk

They built the mound layer by layer, with each layer accepting more of the bones of the fallen. Finally, on top, facing the south and east, they interred the remains of Wahkoceethee the Eagle and Sheshepukwa the Cougar. They buried the fallen warriors with ceremonies of respect and thanks along with their totems. When Anakthepeuke the Rattlesnake died, he would be buried facing the west and the strongest of them all, Mactequeta Bear, in turn would be buried facing the terrible north.  They would take their totems with them so their spirits could tap the power of their totems in death to keep away any who would disturb the prison of Wendigota. It was a great blow to the power of The People to lose their spirit warriors, but it was a necessary sacrifice.

That sacrifice eventually proved too much for the people to bear. It left The People open to attack and mere generations later, foreigners, who had lost their fear of The People, over-ran them and scattered The People to the winds. Their language and their culture were swallowed by the the darkness of time. Lost along with The People were the names of the spirits of woods and air and the terrible knowledge of Wendigota and the sacrifices required to defeat it.

Only the spirits remained to guard their dark prisoner, and over time, even spirits grow weary.

In The Dryad’s Kiss, by R. Scott VanKirk, Ian Finn Morgenstern is a young man in his senior year of high school in a small town in Ohio. He’s a nerdy boy who is awkward around girls and most people outside his circle of friends.  On Friday nights, he and his buddies play a fantasy role-playing game that Finn has created.  He is a good kid, who has a heart of gold. He isn’t the best student, but gets decent grades and he comes from a well-adjusted family. And to round out his geeky status, he has a pet hamster named Squiffy. In the fall he plans on going to college.  At night he dreams of a sexy dryad who seduces him.

Finn sounds like a typical nerdy teenager.  Wrong. In fact, he is anything but typical.  It all starts when he comes home and finds his dad in the back yard with a chainsaw.  His father wants to cut down an oak tree that Finn loves since it is dying.  “The tree stood in our backyard. Its branches extended to my bedroom window. It was large and gnarled and ancient looking with wrinkled bark filled with faces, beings, and places. It was perfect for climbing, and it was mine.”  Finn promises to nurse the tree back to health and if he fails, he will help cut it down in a year.  The tree gets a reprieve and Finn’s life changes forever.

First, the dreams of the dryad, who Finn has named Spring, become more frequent and intense.  How can they just be dreams when they feel so real?  Second, while on a camping trip with his father and uncle, they discover an Indian mound with bones and artifacts that seem to be possessed.  And they unearth a misshapen skull.  Finn is convinced that the skull is evil.  Third, the school bully, Erik Parmely is trying to kill him.  Last, his friend’s sister, Jen, likes Finn.  This should be the least of his worries. However, the dryad is jealous of Jen and attacks her.  Jen ends up in the hospital and everyone looks to Finn for answers to what happened.  However, Finn doesn’t know how to tell his parents and the authorities that his dryad who visits him in his dreams is responsible for the attack and not him.  “The panic was gaining.  Nothing I could say would help.  There was no way my dad or mom was going to believe me if I told them I was being loved to death by a mythical creature who lived in a tree.  They’d put me away for certain.  Either that or think I was covering for worse things.”

How will Finn regain control in his life?  And more importantly, what forces were causing all the chaos and destruction in his life?  A few weeks before, his life was normal.  Now it was anything but ordinary.

This is my second reading of this novel.  The author submitted a previous draft of The Dryad’s Kiss for review.  After receiving comments from several sources he decided to rewrite his novel.

After reading the first draft I was impressed by the different elements that he was attempting to put together, but the execution was not quite there.  When I started reading the second draft I knew from the start that he put much time and effort into rounding out the story.  In fact, he rewrote the entire introduction even though he admitted that he liked the first introduction he wrote.  Deleting his first introduction may have been difficult for the writer but it worked. His new intro works and helps frame the story right from the beginning.

Furthermore, he tied together many of the loose elements I noticed in the first draft.  The final product is a winner.  I found myself deeply immersed in the story and plowed through it to find out why Finn’s life was out of control.  Was the dryad evil?  Was the tree the source of the chaos or the Indian artifacts and skull from the mound?  What was the driving force behind all of this madness and how many innocent people would get sucked into it?

The Dryad’s Kiss is the first in a series.  While not all of the questions above are resolved by the end of the first installment, he successfully hooked me as a reader and now I’m dying to know more.

I am thrilled that the author took the time to work out the kinks of the previous draft.  He shows much promise as a fantasy writer and I can’t wait to see how this series turns out.  I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars.  If a future draft of the novel was free of some niggling grammar issues, such as missing punctuation marks or misplaced words, I would give it 4.5 stars.

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