Walking the Tree
By Kaaron Warren
Walking the tree, by Kaaron Warren (the author of Slights), is a fantasy novel set on the island Botanica. This is no ordinary island however, almost the entire space is taken up by one enormous tree. Small communities live around the coastline and depend on the tree for shelter, firewood and even medicine, but not without a price. Legends speak of ghosts that live within the tree and snatch the young and infirm.
Lillah has come of age and is now ready to leave her community and walk the tree for five years, learning all Botanica has to teach her. Before setting off, Lillah is asked by the dying mother of a young boy to take him with her. In a country where a plague killed half the population, Morace will otherwise be killed in case he has the same disease. But can Lillah keep the boy’s secret, or will she have to resort to breaking the oldest taboo on Botanica?
Where to start? What to say? This book is huge. I don’t mean in size but in a new world, the people, their beliefs, beginnings, endings and all the bits in between, all crammed in to one book.
At the start I felt rather like I’d been taken to a party where I didn’t know anyone and then been introduced to everyone all at once. I admit I got confused a couple of times and had to look back to get my bearings. There are also a few errors here and there, things that were missed in the edit, but don’t let that put you off. Once you dive in you’ll find the water is lovely and not a sea monster in sight. You can float away to Botanica, the island which consists of an enormous tree surrounded by a small circle of land and beaches and populated by the most interesting people I’ve ‘met’ in a long time. You travel with Lillah on her journey around the tree and experience things through her eyes.
The people of Botanica live in Orders (towns and villages) some small and some large and they send their children on a journey around the tree accompanied by teachers, their best young women who travel to find a mate. The journey takes many years and ensures the children experience other cultures and learn as many new things as they can before settling down in their Order. It also ensures that there is no inbreeding, the women only being allowed to choose a mate who is in no way related. That is how the story starts but then it begins to twist and turn and Lillah finds out that things are not what she has been brought up to believe.
I didn’t always like Lillah, she like quite a few of the other people, could be very naive, shallow and self-centred but her journey was an interesting one. Don’t think too hard about how it came about or the differences to people today or you will begin to question the whole premise of the plot, just live it with them and you’ll enjoy it. If like me you find the beginning a little confusing, carry on, keep going and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in everything Botanica.
Written on 7th February 2011 by Gill.