This is a teen fantasy that came out during Cybils season, so I had to wait to read it. It is by Cybils founder Anne Boles Levy, whom I was lucky enough to meet in person at Kidlitcon, but it isn’t hard to sell me a teen fantasy with a cover this gorgeous anyway.
Temple of Doubt by Anne Boles Levy. Sky Pony Press, 2015.
Hadara is the oldest of three daughters in a patriarchal society that (me knowing that Levy is Jewish herself) felt Jewish-inspired to me, with its commitment to the strict rules set down by the Temple and female modesty. Here, though, doubt and nothingness are part of the religion. Their god Nihil thrives on uncertainty and takes sacrificial maiden “wives”. Hadara’s island has done pretty well being isolated from the main Temple, and Hadara has a careful balance between trying fit in and learning how to make and use her mother’s forbidden herbal medicine. Then, a star falls and lands on the island, followed by swarms of high-up temple officials and soldiers afraid it’s a demon. Hadara’s inability to keep her mouth shut keeps getting her into trouble as she feels compelled to point out where the officials are going wrong.
Having been raised in a very religious (but fantasy-loving) family myself, I’m always interested to see different fantasy takes on religion, and this was a very interesting one. Hadara herself makes an ideal teen heroine, always teetering on the knife-edge of using her considerable talents to save others while unable to stay out of trouble herself. Hadara’s relationships with all of her family members are quite well developed – both parents and two sisters – and there’s also a touch of romance that didn’t go at all where I was expecting it to. There are some realistic scenes of soldiers going rough-shod through villages here, nice inter-cultural and inter-species relationship, but nothing explicit in the romance. The story wrapped up nicely while leaving plenty of room for more stories set in this world, which I’d be very happy to read. Recommended for those who enjoy stories of girls swimming upstream to find their way, as well as for those who enjoy religious-inspired fantasy.
Other teen fantasies I’ve enjoyed where religion played an important role include Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days, Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls and Gail Carson Levine’s Ever. I also can’t resist mentioning Barry Deutsch’s Hereville graphic novels, which are appropriate for a much younger audience but delightfully and explicitly Orthodox Jewish.