“What would he have done if his choices were unlimited?” (832). Una wonders this about her resourceful and beloved brother Calish, but it’s also a question for herself. At a turning point in her life, does she choose to marry to a man who’ll give her and her family security above what they ever dreamed attainable? Or does she opt for love? Can she have both? Does having unlimited choices help or hinder us make the best ones?
Follow Una as she traverses her passage into Womanhood and as she discovers her hidden identity in society. Raised by a salt-of-the-earth family who risk their lives for one another, Una resists being cared for. While her family builds her a safety bunker to hide her from the Authority, she loves to ride the horse she names Rebel, whom she claims from another Scavenger family run off (or killed off) their land. She loves to contribute to the family’s welfare, not to be protected to the point of captivity. But over the course of Atchem, during which the land prepares for the dark season of Talium, mirroring her own preparations for adulthood, Una learns that she needs the help of her brothers and mother and father to navigate the brutal culture at whose fringes they exist. Through Blue, the just-Coined man who wants to marry her, Una learns the ways of the Citizens. So, too, we readers learn as Una does, what the gods require of their people. We cheer for Una as she decides for herself which requirements to honor and how.
The pleasure in this novel is in empathizing with Una. She is both a victim and a heroine, and, so, one with whom many of us can identify. We are sucked into her plight from page one, when, drawn by forces she can’t explain, she runs off on market day, returned to the family by strangers. Like this unnamed force, we are compelled by Una’s waywardness and big heart. One can also hear overtones of our American society in the Ashlund world. The fantastical world is a safe one in which to form opinions about the real one. To make connections between the two is another pleasure of this read. This is the first in a series of novels following these same characters in different seasons. book site