Review – The Collar and The Cavvarach, by Annie Douglass Lima

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4 out of 5

Title: The Collar and The Cavvarach

Author: Annie Douglass Lima

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

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The Collar and The Cavvarach is Young Adult Fantasy done right. Despite the dark subject that surrounds the story’s setting (slavery in a dystopian society), author Annie Douglass Lima delivers a message of hope, love, and strength.

The novel revolves around a fourteen-year-old slave named Bensin who cares only for the freedom of his younger sister. He is sold to a new owner for his attempt to free his sister, and becomes separated from the person he cares for most. Fortunately, he is sold to a kind-hearted cavvara shil coach named Steene Mayvins, who has moral reservations against the widely accepted slavery, yet whose life is complicated by troubled finances and trust issues. For him, Bensin is a good fit – someone to help him rebuild trust, and a gifted student in the martial art of cavvara shil who may just win the Grand Imperial Tournament for him.

With every competition Bensin wins, he is able to earn money to put toward buying his sister’s freedom. But of course, nothing can be so simple as that, so you’ll just have to read the book to find out the difficulties Bensin and Coach Mayvins must overcome.

The main characters in this story were strong, and Lima put a lot of depth into them. Instantly likeable, and I rooted for them throughout. Conversely, I didn’t like the people I wasn’t supposed to like (in a good way). That distinction in a novel matters, and Lima’s ability to give unique voices to the good and bad is commendable.

I also liked how logically the story played out. Generally, you could kind of anticipate how things would unfold, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the story. I’m also sure there was a lesson to be learned here about slavery, but for me it was more a plot device than a lesson (by the way, it’s clear that Bensin is white with blond hair and green eyes, and the description of the free characters were generally described as being of darker-skinned nationalities). I don’t really need a reminder that slavery is wrong in any form or fashion, but it certainly made for a strong motivation for Bensin’s decisions, which ultimately strengthened the story.

The fighting scenes were good, and I appreciated the effort Lima went through to build on Bensin’s training. It seems she knows a bit about the martial arts and sports training in general, and I think it showed in the writing of those scenes.

There were a few minor weaknesses in the story. First was that the outcome was predictable. I had a pretty good idea of Bensin’s and his sister’s fates at the end. There really weren’t a lot of twists and turns, and where there were, they were resolved shortly and as expected. I don’t say this as a bad thing, per se, and sometimes it is refreshing to have everything work out the way you want. But the risk of that is that the tension is not sustained throughout.

The other thing was that there was a whole host of supporting characters that were in one sense integral, but in the other we never found out much about them. For example, we are introduced to Mayvin’s recently ex-wife in the beginning to justify his trust issues, but she never really shows up again. So, without further development, Mayvin’s insistence on trust with Bensin really isn’t any stronger than any other person’s. Also, there were Bensin’s original owners – think the Dursleys from Harry Potter. The Dursleys were well-fleshed out, even in the first Harry Potter book. Yet, here, I never had a connection to them, though they seemed pretty important to the plot.

Again, minor things, and certainly not enough to take away from the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a breeze to read and a page turner. Good characters that I genuinely cared about in an interesting world that may be foreign now, but not terribly unlike our recent and ancient history.


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