Book Review: Initiate by Tara Maya (Series, #1)
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi. The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing. Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance. But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi. Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers. But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
It takes something special for me to pick up either a YA or a fantasy book, and this one is both. But Jessica’s review over on The Bookworm Chronicles had me intrigued. A fantasy series based on Polynesian tales and traditions is unique in fantasy. Plus the idea of magic from dancing really appealed to the dancer in me (years of tap and jazz, also many lessons in ballroom, zumba, etc…). When I found out the first book in the series is free on the Kindle, I had to try it out, and I’m glad I did! I really enjoyed the book, and its presence highlights many of the strengths of indie publishing.
The world is richly imagined and well described. The tribes and clans have clearly defined and described cultures that vary from stable farming to warrior to cannibal. The structure of the societies make sense and are rich without being overly detailed. I particularly appreciated that this is a tribal culture fantasy without ever claiming to be the real or imagined history of any known to exist (or to have existed) tribe. It is inspired by Polynesian culture but it is still a fantasy, similar to how medieval fantasy is inspired by the real Middle Ages but never claims to be what happened. This lends itself to rich world building without ever venturing off into ridiculous “historical” fiction.
The plot slowly builds Dindi’s story and Kavio’s story, gradually bringing them together. This is good since Dindi is still young enough that she doesn’t see much of the intrigue going on around her. Dindi’s perspective shows us the day-to-day existence of people in this world, whereas Kavio shows us the higher-ranking intrigue. It didn’t bother me that Dindi starts out a bit innocent because it is clear she will grow in knowledge with time. Meanwhile, bringing in Kavio’s perspective helps establish the world for the reader. There were also enough smaller clashes and twists that I never felt that I knew precisely what was going to happen next.
Although the characters at first seem two-dimensional, they truly are not. Everyone is more than what immediately meets the eye, and I liked that this lesson occurs repeatedly. It’s a good thing to see in YA lit. Dindi is strong, kind, and talented, but she still has her flaws. She is good but she’s not perfect, which makes her a good main character. I also appreciate that what will clearly be a romance eventually between Kavio and Dindi starts out so slowly with longing glances from afar. It’s nice that Dindi and Kavio get a chance to be established as individuals prior to meeting each other, plus the slowly building romance is a nice change of pace for YA lit.
Sometimes the chapter transitions were a bit abrupt or left me a bit lost. With changing perspectives like this, it would be helpful if the chapter titles were a bit less artistic and gave a bit more setting. It’s nice that when perspective changes the cue of the character’s name is given, no matter where it happens, but a bit more than that would be nice at the chapter beginnings. Similarly in scene changes, the break is three pound signs. I think using a bunch of centered tildes or even a customized drawing, such as of pixies, would be nicer. At first when I saw these I thought there was some coding error in the ebook. There also are a few editing mistakes that should not have made it through the final edit, such as saying “suffercate” for suffocate (page 144). As an indie author myself, I know it is incredibly difficult to edit your own book, so I give a pass to minor typos and things like that. However, the entirely wrong word for what the author is trying to say should be fixed. There were few enough that I still enjoyed the book, but I hope that there are less in the future installments of the series.
Overall, this is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia. The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult. A few minor formatting and editing issues detract from it being a perfect escape read, but it is still highly enjoyable. I intend to read more of the series, and I recommend it to fantasy and YA fans alike.
4 out of 5 stars
Note: the Kindle edition is free