Allison's Book Bag

Makai Queen by Tara Fairfield

Posted on: August 24, 2013

Makai Queen by Tara Fairfield is a Christian fantasy set in the undersea world. There were times as I read Makai Queen when Fairfield left me shaking my head, because either characters or situations didn’t work. There were also times when Fairfield pulled me so deeply into her imaginary kingdom of Moku-ola that I started wondering if she could become the next C.S. Lewis, whose Chronicles of Narnia found success both within and beyond the Christian market.

Fairfield has created an almost perfect blend of realism and fantasy. On the realism front, Fairfield grew up near the ocean and so could draw on her own basic knowledge to incorporate real aquatic animals into her fantasy world. The kingdom of Moku-ola teams with sea horses, dolphins, sea lions, sharks, and sea turtles. Fairfield especially loves the Hawaiian Islands, and spent time exploring them before she wrote Makai Queen. Her descriptions of tide pools, underground caves with their crevices and nooks, rock walls, and even underground gardens are alluring and succinct. On the fantasy front, Fairfield endows all of her sea creatures with their own quirky personalities. One of my favorites is Rico, a young purple and white sea horse who latches himself to a lock of the heroine Tessa’s hair when he first meets her. The boisterous mother and daughter pair of sea lions, Mimi and Lizzy, enjoy covering Tessa’s face with sloppy kisses and are equally endearing. Fairfield also extends her descriptions of the ocean beyond typical nonfiction fare to create an enticing world full of beauty and magic. The kingdom of Moku-ola contains miniature waterfalls, glowing seashells, plants of different patterns and colors, warm rocks, and even jewels. A particularly striking description is of the bathroom: “Pearls covered the walls and lined a huge clam-shaped tub in the center of the room. The shower was a cavern, tiled in polished abalone shell. A sink made of glass stood against the wall, filled with tiny fish swimming up and down the pedestal.” The undersea inhabitants feast on plates of pineapple, coconut, papaya, and breadfruit, to name just a few delicacies. Last, everyone in Moku-ola has special gifts. Some of Tessa’s new friends are able to shape shift, while Tessa herself discovers she can telepathically communicate with all the ocean creatures.

If Fairfield has created an almost perfect blend of realism and fantasy, why were there times when I found myself shaking my head? First, although we are not told Tessa’s age, she is old enough to own a car and to seriously consider marriage. Perhaps she’s eighteen? Twenty? And yet her manner of speaking is much more suited to a younger teen. Second, I wish that instead of perpetuating the stereotype of sharks as evil, Fairfield would have reworked their image to create a deeper understanding of their complex nature. Third, while I understand that novels these days need need a quick pace to compete with movies and video games for their audience’s attention, Tessa’s descent into the ocean and her discovery that she is the expected new queen is much too abrupt. I suspect readers will struggle initially to suspend their disbelief and accept Fairfield’s undersea world. Fourth, the romance follows the overused cliche of instant infatuation. While Fairfield does avoid making their relationship about physical love, it falsely creates the illusion that lasting emotional love is instant. The first two issues are minor ones, while the last two issues involve pacing. Fortunately, new writers will often relax and adopt a more leisurely pace in subsequent books.

Because of her almost perfect blend of realism and fantasy, Fairfield’s novel is especially strong on the religious front. Fantasy was the right medium for Fairfield, because it allowed her to refer to a Creator without turning off readers who dismiss any book which mentions God. It also allowed her to explore themes of forgiveness and grace in a new and refreshing way, one which doesn’t feel like yet another conversion story, even if that’s exactly what it is. Fairfield even manages to share the message that we were all born for a purpose, and with special gifts, in the fun form of fiction. Granted, very few of us are going to become royalty or develop supernatural powers like Tessa–at least not on this side of heaven. And yet the underlying message remains true. Also, Fairfield doesn’t fall into the trap of giving all of her characters positions and abilities unattainable to the average reader. Many of the secondary characters are recognized and honored for such commonplace gifts as being skilled messengers. Tara Fairfield’s debut novel exited me and leaves me eager to read the sequels.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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