by Amy Wachspress
When their mother died, Doshmisi, Denzel, Maia, and Sonjay came to live with their Aunt Alice on her ranch. The four children find life on the ranch boring, until Midsummer Eve, when Aunt Alice and the children’s two uncles awaken them in the middle of the night. Before they have time to figure out what’s going on, the four find themselves sent on a mission, through a gate into the land of Faracadar. In Faracadar, Doshmisi, Denzel, Maia and Sonjay discover that they are “The Four,” each with a unique gift that they can use to help people. Faracadar is under the rule of an evil enchanter, Sissrath, and the four children must find a way to rescue the powerful Staff of Shakabaz from him and save the land.
First and foremost, The Call to Shakabaz is a highly readable, entertaining fantasy that anyone can enjoy. But beyond that, it fills some important holes in fantasy literature. The four children are African-American and many aspects of African-American culture are integrated into the story. Also, the people of the fantasy world Faracadar could truly be considered “people of color”: besides having darker skin, they also have a kind of aura-glow in a variety of colors, such as red, green, or yellow. You don’t have to be African-American to enjoy this book; I found it quite enjoyable and a great read. But it’s about time that a good fantasy came along featuring characters that African-American children can identify with.
Another thing that is unique about this book is its message of non-violence. That doesn’t mean there isn’t violence in the book; there are a couple of battles, and yes, people die. But in the end, the heroes learn that violence isn’t the answer and that violence only begets more violence. They teach the people of Faracadar the principle of Satyagraha, or truth-force, as developed by Mahatma Gandhi and espoused by Martin Luther King, Jr. I was skeptical that this could work in a fantasy without being preachy, but the climax of the book is quite moving.
I liked the talents that the four children have. Healing is a frequently used talent in fantasy, but musical ability is not as common. I especially liked that the youngest, Sonjay, becomes the leader. Most books of this type stereotype the oldest as the leader and the youngest as a baby or the most sensitive. It’s a pleasure to watch Sonjay’s leadership skills develop, much to his own surprise as well as the surprise of his older siblings.
My only complaint about The Call to Shakabaz is that it could have used one more pass of editing: there were several errors in grammar and usage throughout the book.