Exploring #ForestFantasy this #WyrdAndWonder | “The Namer of Spirits” by Todd Mitchell

Posted Monday, 30 May, 2022 by jorielov , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I stumbled across one of my author’s newsletters which was mentioning the works of other writers who were going to be at the same event. Laura Resau is an author I have loved reading for many years now (well over a decade and a half!) and it was her newsletter which mentioned this story “The Namer of Spirits” by Todd Mitchell. I had been keenly hopeful I would discover a Forest Fantasy novel I hadn’t learnt of previously before or during Wyrd And Wonder this year and as I read about the premise behind this novel, I felt it was a wicked good fit for me to read!

I had planned to interview Mr Mitchell during Wyrd And Wonder – either as a fifth chat on Twitter or more traditionally on my blog, however, as my work life became a bit more complicated and my health took a few sidesteps as well as a result, I wasn’t able to firm together those plans. I opted instead to focus on reading the novel and sharing my ruminations during the event whilst I planned to re-connect with the author afterwards to see if perhaps I could still interview him about what I had read and the story he had written.

I was not obligated to post a review on its behalf. I am sharing my thoughts on behalf of this anthology for my own edification and a continued journey of sharing my readerly life on Jorie Loves A Story. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

NoteI received the Press Materials from the author Todd Mitchell – who kindly sent them to me at my request after I explained how I was going to read his novel during Wyrd And Wonder. He is my fifth and final #WyrdAndWonder guest authors this year – on the 31st of May – wherein we’ll be chatting on the tag #WyrdAndWonder as the previous four guests were conversing via #SatBookChat which is the tag for @SatBookChat, the chat I developed early-on as a book blogger.

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Hallo, Hallo dear hearts!

It wasn’t until I was reading through my authors’ newsletters (which I receive by email) ahead of Wyrd And Wonder this year that I discovered The Namer of Spirits as forementioned. It was @LauraResau who had tipped my hat towards finding this novel and it led me into reading the story during the last weekend of the event whilst hosting a live interview with Mr Mitchell on our final day of Wyrd And Wonder which is the 31st of May.

Todd Mitchell Twitter Chat banner created by Jorie in Canva.

I was especially grateful to Ms Resau for including the news about an event they were both attending as otherwise I might not have discovered this story this year at all. And, that would have been a keen disappointment as from the first moment I started to read the story, I could tell it carried with it a lot of the themes we were hoping to uncover throughout Wyrd And Wonder this year. Especially about the spirits who live in the forest, forest communities and also, how a society would either live in harmony with the forest or against it; given different approaches in narratives and scopes of stories or series.

I am thankful I have a chance to both read and talk about the story on Jorie Loves A Story but also, speak directly with the author and talk about how he approached writing this narrative as much as what inspired it to be written. I am hopeful others might be drawn inside his creative Forest Fantasy world and take out the joys I had whilst reading it.

Rainbow Digital Clip Art Washi Tape made by The Paper Pegasus. Purchased on Etsy by Jorie and used with permission.

Notation about Cover Art and Design: I was immediately drawn into the scene on the book cover but it wasn’t until I was reading the story itself did I fully understand what I was observing! It was one of those rare moments where you realised that the cover artist and the design of the cover was an equal match to the contents of the story! The large beast seen on the cover was an illwen and that is Ash standing in front of them. I won’t reveal what is happening as it is an important scene of the story but wow! The illustration of that scene is wicked fab and I also appreciated the imagery of the dao faro and mistcat on the back cover, too! Of course, the author’s photo also makes more sense once you’ve read the story, too! His photo and the cover art are clues about “The Namer of Spirits”!!

Exploring #ForestFantasy this #WyrdAndWonder | “The Namer of Spirits” by Todd MitchellThe Namer of Spirits
by Todd Mitchell
Source: Purchased | Personal Library

“A dangerous town carved out of unforgiving forest, a young girl who can name spirits and tame monsters, a race against time to save the natural world: The Namer of Spirits is what readers want and the world needs.” –Eliot Schrefer, New York Times bestselling author

In the frontier village of Last Hope, people dismiss twelve-year-old Ash Narro as a flighty child who claims to hear the true names of things. But when enraged forest spirits attack, Ash shows that the names she hears have power. After taming a destructive forest spirit, Ash teams up with Fen, a wild forest boy, and embarks on an unusual journey to save her village. In this steampunk eco-fantasy, the perils of deforestation and the power of friendship are explored through a fantastical adventure involving giant mistcats, tempestuous forest spirits, a supernatural puppy, and a girl with a special gift for shaping what things become.

Genres: Fantasy Fiction, Eco-Fantasy, Middle Grade Fantasy, Sci-Fantasy, Steampunk

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 978-1-945654-82-4

Published by Owl Hollow Press LLC

on 5th October, 2021

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 316

Published By: Owl Hollow Press, LLC (@owlhollowpress)

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Genre(s): Middle Grade | Fantasy | Adventure | Magic
Steampunk | Eco-Fantasy | Eco-Lit | Environmental Fantasy

Available Formats: Trade Paperback, Ebook

About Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell is the author of several award-winning novels for young readers, teens, and adults including The Last Panther (Penguin Random House), The Traitor King (Scholastic), The Secret to Lying (Candlewick), and Backwards (Candlewick).

His two newest books came out in fall 2021 — one for writers, artists, and creators titled Breakthrough: How to Overcome Doubt, Fear, and Resistance to Be Your Ultimate Creative Self, and a Middle Grade novel that's been optioned for film/TV development titled The Namer of Spirits.

In addition to his books, he’s also written for comics, including A Flight of Angels (Vertigo, a YALSA Top 10 Pick for Teens) and Broken Saviors (an alien invasion comic available on ComiXology). Currently, Todd directs the Beginning Creative Writing Teaching Program at Colorado State University. You can visit him (and learn about his squirrel obsession) on his website.

Rainbow Digital Clip Art Washi Tape made by The Paper Pegasus. Purchased on Etsy by Jorie and used with permission.

My Review of the namer of spirits:

Mitchell entreats us to travel inside a walled community which has a specific security system in place to keep its citizens safe or as safe as they can become given what frequently attacks them. This is a place which is surrounded by a Cloud Forest (which by description reminds me of our Rain Forests as there is a lot of moisture, mist and rain) on all sides and with that comes certain dangers – yet it is the language and descriptive narrative which I immediately felt drawn to as I read the story. Mitchell has an uncanny way of using expressive language to draw you closer to his world and to intuitively feel a connection to Ash; the young girl in The Namer of Spirits who can hear what others cannot and who can ascertain knowledge where others hear only silence.

Her community was suspicious of things they did not understand, and that suspicion led them to act in certain ways towards visitors. As we peer into their world through Ash’s eyes – we’re privy to seeing how even others who are similar in age to Ash are as mistrustful of others as the adults. Ash herself likes to keep herself open to new experiences and new ways of looking at the world round her which I felt gave her an edge ahead of her community. She wasn’t quick to judge and she liked to take her time to assess what was happening rather than take the quicker route to judgement. Whilst her village was preparing for another attack of their forest spirits – known here as illwen they had a visitation from one of the dao fora warrior children. Mitchell didn’t talk too much about why that particular person had arrived nor about the dao fora history of their people but showed how Ash’s village reacted to his arrival instead. To say the least, they were unnerved and fearful.

Whilst all of this is going on, we learn how Ash herself intuits names and how her naming ritual is very specific to the object which is being named. It reminded me a bit about the differences in naming rituals for infants and how in some cultures or traditions, names for children aren’t given at time of birth because their personality is not known at that time. Some people name their children after they have a chance to know the person they are and the name follows only after that is revealled. Which is why I felt the approach Ash took to name the things which were either important to her (as she had a small collection of items) or things which she found round her in the village – there was a particular method she used with felt nearly spiritual in its execution as she was listening to the truth only she would understand. I knew then that this would extend away from objects to other things which could become named as well due to Mitchell’s foreshadowing.

When the illwen attacked – Ash immediately saw past the concerns of her village and went to help the caged dao fora (which I felt was also representing issues in our own world). The illwen (forest spirits) attack the village regularly and Ash’s parents and the rest of the village learnt to hide instead of facing the illwen directly. That was the interesting bit about their situation – of how they had trained themselves not to question why the illwen attacked or how to communicate with them but to retreat instead. It took Ash and her brave courage to seek out a different way and that is when an elder woman in the village announced that Ash was a namer of spirits.

Fen was the dao faro boy the villagers were fearful of without cause as they hadn’t even tried to speak to him as much as Ash had herself. This was a turning point in the story – as both Ash and Fen decided to forge ahead together along with Lost Heart Puppy which was one of the first names Ash had granted to something which had responded in kind. I won’t spoilt who Lost Heart Puppy is or why this involves transfiguration or reincarnation depending on how you interpret what happens, but it is a very clever part of the story! It is the first glimpse too into the legacy of a namer of spirits and what their gift truly entails. I especially appreciated the cheeky conversations Ash has with both Fen and Lost Heart Puppy; as they both equally give her a stressful time with their questions and/or responses.

Part of Ash becoming more aware of her gifts and talents as a namer of spirits was to entertain visions and learn more about the hidden truths of her world. It was here where Mitchell talked about the misuse of land and resources, of the harm our influence on the natural world can be if we act in ways which affect the forest without allowing itself to regenerate before we take more than what it can bear as well as infuse the backbone of the story with an ecological conscience. The technology in the story is what gives Mitchell license to call this a Steampunk world as the technologies are before the Industrial Revolution and still rely on lit lanterns for light as an example. It wasn’t until we were able to travel closer to where Fen was from that we saw the wider lens of what was happening to the world in which they both lived. The loss of forest and the need for farming echoed what I had learnt when I was a ten year old fifth grader watching Medicine Man for the first time as it opened my eyes to the wider issues and man’s effect on the natural world.

As this story is broken into different sections – the second part of the novel delves with the Quest undertaken by Ash to seek out the SkyTree Council (which of course, was a bit ironic as I had read The Shadow of the SkyTree this month; I presumed the name was similar but not eluding to the same end result) whilst Fen was a ready companion to help guide her through his part of the world. We were still elusively in the dark about the goings-on of this world as Mitchell kept a lot of those details outside the purview of the reader. That was something which kept coming back to me – as much as I enjoyed endevouring to follow in their footsteps, I was missing the back-histories of their world and their individual societies. Until of course, I reached the Cave of Sorrows! This is where Mitchell expanded our knowledge of what was happening in this world as well as what was affecting it on a deeper level than most realised. In some respects, I wish we could have had some of that shared ahead of our arrival.

This story will definitely serve as a way of opening the eyes of those who read it especially if they aren’t as clued into Environmental issues facing our modern world. Mitchell broaches a thread of thought into an ecological and environmental calamity through the thoughtful repose of a Fantasy world. It was through the Cave of Sorrows his vision of using Fantasy elements and creatures to his advantage to present the cause of alarm about how our imprint on the natural world is either for good or harm. It was also where he presented how the illwen were similar to the creatures I had read in The Monsters Apprentice. Their nature was inherently good and innocent but when they were mistreated and controlled by a force of darkness, it changed their natures and the spirit within them. It was a sequencing of explaining the harm we can inflict when we do not understand the power in which we can wield against something we wish to control. Yet, in the midst of that revelation was also a light of hope – as Suma (one of the dao fora) explained to Ash after her time in the Cave of Sorrows concluded and only after Ash was given a method of seeing more visions of truth which could only help but embolden Ash to find the courage to create change in her village.

Elemental spirits who are guardians of the Forest was such a wicked concept to see explored – especially as Mitchell approached writing about them from the perspective of a mother and her children; a family who was exploited by greed and controlled out of selfishness. Your heart churns with sorrow as you oversee how they were overtaken and within that moment, you realised why Ash had to leave her village. If no one left the village how would anyone cause positive change in a world that had lost its way? And, I felt that was the greater message of all – if we all continue to turn a blind eye on the ramifications of our presence and our footprints on Earth, which generation of us is going to be the one to step up and make the changes needed to save the environment in which we’ve destroyed one century after another!?

knew there would have to be conflict before resolution – but nothing quite prepared me for the battle scenes which erupted in an attempt at peace when Ash tried to convince the Governor that there was another way forward than deforestation. And, that is at the crust of the message etched into this novel – Mitchell was giving a wonderful expose on the climatic changes which can erase the normalcy of life (ie. food, water, oxygen, etc) when deforestation is used as a method of farming land what was never meant to be terraformed. (or a fictional representation of the Brazilian Rain Forest and the downfall of its own heart due to the same measures taken against it) What did surprise me were the airships because until they were mentioned the Steampunk influences were a bit minor and immaterial; hidden in the background of the scenes.

I had such an overwhelming emotional reaction to the conclusion of this story! Mostly, as I have watched the senseless destruction of trees in my own community. I’ve witnessed trees in the prime of their lives being destroyed for no reason other than the person who wanted them removed leveraged themselves a way to remove them which crushed a part of my own heart and soul. A lot of this story paralleled Medicine Man but it had its own distinctive message and storyline, too. There was a named villain Ash had to take-on in order to better understand her own nature as a namer of spirits whilst her path also connected the path of illwen. And, that is where the emotions burst for me because in order to give something their freedom, immediate loss is felt by the one who frees them. This played out a few different times and emotionally it is a hard ending of a story to get through but its worth holding on because of how Mitchell brings us full circle within this world.

I struggled with different aspects of how it was told and how it was progressing forward – but in the end, I better understood some of those choices. It was just a frustrating road to get there – as I noted on this review, but Mitchell knew why we had to take the harder road towards understanding what was going on in this world because it was a composite of our own rather than a wholly fantastical otherworld. The illwen have such an interesting place in the world Mitchell created – their true nature and their spirit shine so brightly in the concluding chapters. It is like having the fog of darkness finally lifted wherein the light can not only let the land sparkle with a rebirth and Regenisis of life but there can be a lightness of joy waking the land in a song of harmony. That’s the real gift of The Namer of Spirits – beyond being more mindful of our choices and of our greater impact on the natural environments in which we co-habitat with wildlife, vegetation and trees; it is singularly finding a harmonic balance which is the hidden key of being the caretakers of Earth.

on the fantastical writing style of todd mitchell:

Being I’ve lived in a section of the states which is notorious for storms for most of my life, I was especially grateful for how Mitchell allowed the presence of storms to take on such a tactile impression within the opening paragraphs of The Namer of Spirits. He truly captured the charging force within a storm and gave it an imaginative impression of what it could look like if it were an animal rushing towards your location! I loved it and it led to more curiously wonderful descriptions of the rest of this world he’s built within the novel.

The world in this novel is established round a few principles of society – Ash’s village is self-governed by its villagers but they rule with a bit of superstition which overrules their logic when something happens outside their own control. However, they don’t have complete authority in their society as that is all routed through a central metropolis (ie. Governor City). This of course highlights what happens with a mob overtakes a situation wherein ordered and structured response would have been better. Whilst of course, there was an undertone of darkness, too, lingering round the edges of the story. This played out by how the mannerisms and reactions of the villagers felt overly distraught and filled with fear or anger. Whilst some of their behaviours seemed to be rather strange and abnormal overall. It was leading into recognising something was not quite right with this world – but the cause and the effect were elusively hidden from our view.

As much as this was a working village (ie. Last Hope) they seemed isolated from the wider world (which isn’t actually named in the story?) in which they lived. They were involved in trade and commerce but due to the location of their village – so close to the Cloud Forest (where the dao fora lived) and the frequencies of the illwen’s attacks – it proved to be quite isolating for the village to even receive visitors from afar or to travel elsewhere outside their own protective walls or the areas just past the wall itself. This was another interesting aspect of the story – how Mitchell showed how barriers can isolate people wherein if you flip that against our modern world – the barriers are not always visible but there are walls all the same which separate us and sometimes even seek to divide us.

The character of Fen I knew from the onset had the most to share with us – his character is singularly unique and interestingly portrayed as he’s the one character I think most might overlook. My heart was aggrieved what became of his fate in the story but like most good stories – the kind that you never quite forget and a piece of them never quite leave you – the character of Fen is one of those characters who sits with you long after you’ve read his story. I am not sure what inspired his character directly, but Mitchell knew how to touch our hearts with Fen and he’s definitely one of the most interesting characters in a Fantasy novel that you’ll meet.

I especially liked how names played such a strong role in The Namer of Spirits – yet at the same time, it was mused about how the origin of a name isn’t oft known or revealled. There is a lesson in that – about the names we give and the names we take-on as much as the names which self-identify us and the names, we choose to use to personalise our own living experience. There is a lot to unpack after you’ve read the novel and the artful way names have a way of being a predestined marker of a person’s path is only part of the joy of exploring the story.

Small Fly in the Ointment:

The lack of transitional viewpoints and back-histories of this world made understanding the complexities of the world a bit harder than necessary. I think either a Prologue or a juxtaposition between the dao fora community and the villagers might have offset the gaps in information for me as a reader. Even when I was younger, I much preferred stories of this nature to have more back-history shared with me up front than to have it drawn out throughout the novel (or series) because it helped anchour me into why a character was undertaking the Quest or seeking the truth behind the issues afflicting the world in which they lived. You want to connect to that immediately and sometimes, if the wait is too long to get that kind of back-history, you feel as if the wait is too long, or it arrives almost too late in the sequencing of how the story is revealled. This novel is on the brink of making me wait too long – whilst I think it relied too heavily on a singular point-of-view (mostly of Ash) without shifting to the dao fora for instance. I felt Suma would have made a great secondary lead character and bridging the gap between Ash and the dao fora as well as the reader.

Mitchell does allow us into the dao fora area of the Cloud Forest and into their realms which are near the Sky Tree but by the time we reach their community I felt it was almost too late because of the length it took towards understanding them vs the moment we first met Fen. Until Ash herself made those transitions and started to travel herself – I felt this story relied a bit too much on first person experience (on behalf of Ash). It could even have been spilt three ways – between Ash, Suma and the Sorrows; three perspectives within three distinctively different areas of the novel which led back to its central heart and message.

Seeking the Fantastical:

→ dao fora warriors

→ illwen – forest spirits

→ Transfiguration and/or reincarnation

→ mistcats

→ airships

I love whenever I can find new fantastical creatures in a Fantasy novel and the illwen and the mistcats are two of my new favourites! Mostly as the illwen themselves can affectively transfigure into something else or on another level of perception reincarnate themselves whilst the mistcats are conjured out of mist. I felt the mistcats were very elemental in both appearance and origin.

And, the whole Mythological and Mystical aspects of the world set within The Namer of Spirits I wish had been more fleshed out and broadened because there was such a lot of history to the illewens and to the ways in which the illwen interacted within the Cloud Forest and surrounding areas. It is a very connective novel between societies and the natural world but I felt it took such a long while in the context of the story to unearth those moments where we could get information about these particular aspects of those actual origins.

I was nearly aggrieved this was labelled Steampunk as for most of the novel, the only aspects of its essence were in the kinds of technologies present in the context of the story. It wasn’t until nearly the last quarter of the novel wherein Mitchell pulled out a hat trick and gave us airships!

Rainbow Digital Clip Art Washi Tape made by The Paper Pegasus. Purchased on Etsy by Jorie and used with permission.

I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!
Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it.
I look forward to hearing your takeaways about this novel.
Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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This book review was a happy SURPRISE addition to the #bookhaul
I purchased this year for #WyrdAndWonder:

The Namer of Spirits collage created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: jorielovesastory.com

Rainbow Digital Clip Art Washi Tape made by The Paper Pegasus. Purchased on Etsy by Jorie and used with permission.

Reading this story contributed to
my #WyrdAndWonder Year 5:

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Enjoying my fantastical reviews about the worlds of Fantasy?

Ever since the beginning of Jorie Loves A Story, I have embarked on a Quest to seek out stories within the worlds of Fantasy which would heighten my awareness of the genre and give me wicked good reads – across the subniches of a genre I’ve loved since I was seventeen. Every May, I happily co-host @WyrdAndWonder – whilst throughout the months of the year, I regularly read & discuss the Fantasy reads I am discovering.

Visit my full archive for ALL my #EnterTheFantastic wanderings! As well as take a walkabout through my archives for #WyrdAndWonder – or take a walkabout through my archive for everything deemed wickedly fantastical!

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Monday, 30 May, 2022 by jorielov in #WyrdAndWonder, Book Cover | Notation on Design, Book Review (non-blog tour), Content Note, Earthen Magic, Earthen Spirituality, Eco-Fantasy, Environmental Fantasy, Fantasy Fiction, Fly in the Ointment, Middle Grade Novel, Premonition-Precognitive Visions, Reincarnation, Science Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Transfiguration, Twitterland & Twitterverse Event

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