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Chessie Bligh and the Scroll of Andelthor
Thora Gabriel
iUniverse, 284 pages

Chessie Bligh and the Scroll of Andelthor
Thora Gabriel
Thora Gabriel is an avid hiker and loves to explore the many secret canyons found in Utah and Northern Arizona. She lives in California with her husband.

Chessie Bligh Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


"We botch spell," Petrovna said as she hung her head. "We try to redo spell your sister put under, it no work. Perhaps I tangle up words. Old language. Spell maybe get lost in translation."
Chessie Bligh, a neglected 14 year-old American girl, is sent to a foreign boarding school accompanied by her only friend, a puppy named Wuggbert. Seeking to defy the social climbing aspirations of her uncaring, wealthy parents, Chessie switches places with Aelyn, a physically similar girl she happens to meet while changing aircraft in New York. Thus does Chessie find herself at Die Sterntaler. The school turns out to be an elf encampment at the rim of the Grand Canyon, hidden from human sight by magic. It's soon apparent that Die Sterntaler is a multidimensional place of spells, shape-shifting, and time travel; the location where her elfin destiny begins. Before long Chessie discovers her own magical powers, and the chance to change elf history. However, before she can do that there are a series of murders to be solved, and a killer who must be brought to justice.

Before commenting on the book itself, I should explain that it is usual for reviewers to get other material in the jiffy bag. Most often a note from the editor, or author, other reviews, publicity material, and so on. Chessie Bligh and the Scroll of Andelthor came with a letter from the author, containing the line; "Without people like you, authors like me would never get our book's message out there." Pardon me? I associate "message" with the kind of twaddle spouted in political manifestos, or by fanatical religious proponents. A work of fantasy aimed at early teens and below should be purely entertainment. No "message" required.

However, deciding that this was a poor choice of phrase by the author, I moved on to the next bit of paper, which turned out to be something I've never been sent before. It was a multi-page corporate flyer for the author's daytime job, listing all her colleagues and ending with an article about the author. Written not by a journalist, but by someone else working for the company. I put this unusual approach down to sheer enthusiasm by Thora Gabriel to promote her work, and ploughed ahead with the book itself.

What I found was a lead character who is supposed to be 14, but often expresses the kind of knowledge and perspectives acquired by someone three times her age. Okay, some folk are naturally older than their years, but this felt awkward. When Chessie did react like a 14 year-old, it seemed to be a fourteen year-old as the author remembers, not as one typically behaves today. Another issue was the clashing cultural mish-mash suggested by the supporting characters; Elf wizard biddies incongruously named Marge and Penelope. Aelyn Reich, the girl Chessie swaps places with. Beor Blagenheart, who no one will be surprised to learn is the nominal bad elf boy. Niles Sitnalta, Praetor at Die Sterntaler, who I instantly thought of as Dumbledore lite. Beulah Bloke, of the vague South London Orphanage. Then there was the frequent use of the term younglings, anachronistic elf nomenclature for children, and the Scan-o-vator, a dreadfully named time machine. Using such unlikely, unsympathetic names, without any cohesive etymology, is the literary equivalent of throwing random fruits into a cake mixture, and hoping it will still taste good. As the plot rolled on, I struggled to accept major plot elements such as the alternate dimensional Atlantean origin of elves, or precious elf children sent to the human world and placed with human parents, but incompetently monitored. The situations did not ignite my imagination, and the characters failed to convince as real elves. They were more like Americans playing at being elves. All too often I felt like I was reading Chessie Bligh and the Wibbly Wobbly Plot. By the last page, my favourite, most consistent character was Wuggbert the dog, who in one scene craftily piddles on Praetor Sitnalta's floor. It was an act for which I had some sympathy.

In conclusion, much as I wanted to like this book I found little to recommend. Perhaps I'm too demanding in judging this work against the best in the business. It is entirely possible that the target readership will disagree with everything I felt, and take Chessie Bligh to their heart. But for me, what Thora Gabriel has produced is nowhere near the finished article. Young readers keen to follow the adventures of a female lead character would be better entertained by Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, the same author's Sally Lockhart quartet, or Garth Nix's wonderful Abhorsen trilogy.

Copyright © 2007 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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