Dark Hills review - 2005

Dan Hayes Statesman Journal Book ReviewerIn the literary world, success comes from hard work. It’s hard work to write something, especially a book. It is especially hard work to get a book published. When all else fails, some authors publish their work themselves.Then they are faced with the enormously hard work of getting the word out about their book and making some sales.Sometimes — not very often, but it happens — fate takes a hand. That was the case with a trilogy called “The Land of Elyon,” by Patrick Carman.Now living in Washington, Carman was born and raised in Salem. He attended Salem Academy (it no longer exists) before leaving town.There came a time when he decided to write a story for his two daughters.This isn’t an unheard of idea. Stephen King wrote “Eyes of the Dragon” for his children. But Carman isn’t King (when it comes to literary clout), and when it came time to find a publisher for his story, no one was interested. So Carman published his stories himself. Then fate came calling, in the guise of Scholastic Books of New York.They are one of the nation’s biggest publishers of books for young readers. When the company came across copies of Carman’s work, they got in touch with him.And that miracle happened: The self-published work became a nationally-distributed work by a major publisher.This is good for all of us, because Carman’s book deserves attention.”The Dark Hills Divide” is the first book in the series. In it, we learn of the four cities of Elyon.Each one is surrounded by a sturdy wall, and each is accessed by a walled road so that the cities are like a wheel with spokes. The walls were built to keep secrets out.The young heroine of the story, Alexa Daley, has long felt that they also were built to keep other secrets in. And she wonders, of course, what is on the other side of those walls. She wonders what evil lies in The Dark Hills beyond her home.Carman writes with a finely tuned sense of truth. His knowledge of literature and folklore shines. He doesn’t copy stories that have gone before, but he does pay tribute to them.He also plays with language in subtle ways. Chapter 18, as an example, is titled “a night errand in the library.” This title is literal, as Alexa makes a nighttime visit to the library.But she also is a young person on a quest and she could be thought of as a knight errant.You don’t have to catch things like that to enjoy “The Dark Hills Divide.” You just have to be the sort of person who enjoys a really good story.At its heart, “The Dark Hills Divide” is a gracefully woven story about fear and secrets and love and family. It is a tale of magic and realization.Its heroine describes herself early on in the book: “I was twelve years old, short for my age, with skinny arms and knobby knees. My father often joked that he could run my forearm through his wedding ring (sadly, this was only a slight exaggeration). I had sandy-colored hair, which I kept in a braid nearly all the time.”She is an unlikely person to be the one chosen to change the course of her people and an unlikely person to encounter a tiny man and animals that speak. She also is an unlikely person to stand up to all the secrets.There are many reasons why this book works so well.We care about the characters, we are easily caught up in the story and we want to know the answers — we want to know what those secrets are.Technically speaking, this book is targeted at young readers, those from about age 10 through the teenage years.That is a wide range, but this is a wide-ranging book.Like the best books for children and young people, it appeals to adults as well.It took a lot of hard work to get this book from the author’s mind and into the hands of readers.There is no hard work involved in reading it, though — only wonder and joy.Dan Hays’ Northwest Best recommends a book written by a Northwest author or about a Northwest subject. Write Hays in care of the Statesman Journal, P.O. Box 13009, Salem, OR 97309-3009.

Patrick Carman