July 27, 2023

Abeni’s Song

By P. Djèlí Clark
Review by
Fantasy author P. Djèlí Clark’s first middle grade novel follows Abeni as she builds the skills, courage and wisdom to face her evil adversary: a part-goat, part-man kidnapper of children.
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Fantasy author P. Djèlí Clark’s first middle grade novel tells the story of a girl named Abeni in three clear acts: a discovery, a journey and a confrontation. It all begins on the day of the Harvest Festival, when Abeni’s village is attacked. A mysterious army razes the village and captures all of the villagers, while a strange man wearing a mask with goat horns plays a flute melody that enchants the children into following him. These terrifying forces serve the Witch Priest, who has started a war so that he may rule over all the lands.

Abeni alone is saved by a very old witch named Asha, who has watched over the village for many generations, although no one heeded her warnings of danger. Asha takes Abeni to live in her magical hut that’s larger on the inside than the outside, and Asha begins to discover new truths about the world and herself. She even learns little bits of magic and how to wield a staff.

Between facing the loss of her family and discovering a world of magic and mystery previously unknown to her, Abeni also takes on new responsibilities when Asha is struck down by a shadow being—another one of the Witch Priest’s servants—and reborn as a young girl. It turns out that Asha is not a witch but an ancient spirit who serves as a protector of the land and its people. Now she must grow into her power again.

Asha’s transformation reverses the two characters’ roles. Overwhelmed by both the duty of protecting Asha and a desire to find her people, Abeni sets off to find Asha’s sister. Abeni hopes to pawn off Asha once the sister is found and then chase down her family and rescue them from the forces of the Witch Priest. She soon discovers that fate has a different plan in store.

There are few surprises in the plot, but readers might find themselves sniffling—or outright turning on the waterworks—at several moments when these adolescent characters team up and grow to truly care for each other. Rooting for Abeni and Asha comes naturally, and Abeni is particularly charming. She cannot help her curiosity and speaks rashly, but she is also open to learning about herself and the reality in which she lives. With the help of spirits and friends she meets along the way, Abeni builds the skills, courage and wisdom to face her evil adversary: the part-goat, part-man kidnapper of children.

As with most of the books Clark has written, Abeni’s Song does a fantastic job building a world full of deep lore. Readers are clearly being set up for a series, so not all mysteries are solved nor everyone saved, but the nature of spirits and magic, and the secrets of allies and enemies all plant a firm vision for a future installment.

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Abeni’s Song

Abeni’s Song

By P. Djèlí Clark
ISBN 9781250825827

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