Author: Sheila O’Flanagan
Originally Published: 2016
Review by Miriam Atkinson
Bestselling author Sheila O’Flanagan trades her usual drama and romance novels for her first foray into the world of fantasy. Written for teens and young adults, The Crystal Run follows Joe who escapes the school bullies only to accidentally find himself falling into the far-off world of Carcassia. There he meets Kaia, a Runner. Together they must journey into enemy territory and use crystals to recharge the shield-dome protecting Carcassia. But a Runner’s life expectancy is tied to the duration of their run. Joe desperately searches for a way to save himself and Kaia from this mysterious world and change their fate.
The Crystal Run is a fast-paced story (quite fitting considering the journey the characters undertake) but it never feels rushed. The plot progresses naturally from obstacles to dangers to mysteries for Joe and Kaia to overcome – giving the reader a tour of this new world and familiarising them with the rules of Carcassian and Kanabian (Carcassia’s enemy) societies.
When creating an entirely new world it is important for the reader to be able to quickly visualise and understand what they are reading about. The Crystal Run relies heavily on newly invented words and names – such as for characters, places, food, weapons, animals, objects, rituals, and more. The first time I read the book I was at times confused by the array of new words. O’Flanagan seems to be aware that there may be some confusion among her readers and makes sure that important information is repeated throughout the novel through dialogue between Joe and Kaia. The book (or at least the version I read) does not have a glossary at the back. I feel, for readers like me, a glossary would have been useful to quickly double-check the meaning of a word before continuing with the story.
Since I first wrote this review in 2017 I have since re-read The Crystal Run and I found it much easier to understand a second time around. This second read-through did however raise more questions. When Joe arrives in Carcassia he is given a ‘Joq’ an ear-piece which acts as a translator. The Joq is described as very effective yet at the same time the novel frequently states that certain words seem unable to be translated – so which is it? Another language decision I found odd was Joe’s name. Joe’s full name is ‘Joe Hunter’ which Kaia and the Carcassians mispronunciation as ‘Sho Hun-ter’ thus implying that the word ‘hunter’ is unfamiliar to them (hence the slight mispronunciation). However on more than one occasion Joe is introduced as: ‘this is Sho he is a hunter’ which indicates that the Carcassians do know the word ‘hunter’ so it therefore makes no sense that they would continually be unable to pronounce his surname correctly. I know I’m being picky and little things like this doesn’t affect the overall story but for me I found these little inconsistencies to be jarring once I’d noticed them.
Both before I started reading and during, one of the things that made The Crystal Run sound so appealing was the promise of mysteries waiting to be solved – such as what really happens to the Runners at the end of their journey, how was Joe able to enter Carcassia, and what caused the division between the two nations of Carcassia and Kanabia. The novel is the first in a series so I was not expecting O’Flanagan to provide all of the answers at once however frustratingly The Crystal Run does not answer any questions at all. Normally mysteries intrigue me and make me want to read more but in this case, when the characters and ultimately the reader end the novel with more or less the same information they started with, it leaves me feeling annoyed and frustrated rather than excited to find out what happens next. The sequel Shield of Lies was published in 2018. I have not yet read the novel so I do not know if this will conclude the series or if there are more books to follow. The Crystal Run has a lot of potential as a new fantasy world but I believe there is a lot now a lot of pressure on the sequel to deliver at least some of the story’s answers.
*This review was originally published in the online magazine Cuckoo Review in June 2017*