Fantasy takes you to worlds that never were or never could be. Good fantasy lets you live in that alternate reality while linking you seamlessly to the realities, the frailties of the human condition.
Air of Vengeance is the first of a series of novels for middle-graders and young adults and succeeds on both levels.
In a faraway land called Windhollows, two races live side by side, symbiotically producing different gasses, or Essences necessary for sustaining their lives together. The ability to produce Essence also determines everyone’s place in society. As the book begins, with no ability to produce Essence, nine infants become pariahs or Bare Pants literally from the moment of their birth.
Their inability to produce Essence is no accident. Rip Stinker, a brilliant but twisted scientist, invents a weapon that destroys the babies’ ability to produce Essence as revenge against the father of one of them for acts he felt destroyed his life.
What is fantasy soon becomes tragedy. Billy, one of the children, grows up in a household where his mother all but despises him for being who he is. She divorces his father, who loves his child despite his issues and sustains him through his miserable childhood.
The other eight are all abandoned by their parents at birth and shuffled off to an orphanage. The fateful eight band together at the orphanage and form a friendship that protects them from the worst societal prejudice yet still suffer the effects of their parents’ abandonment because they were different. They call themselves The Spent.
When Billy finally meets The Spent, he discovers the love and friendship circumstances denied him, even as they are jealous of him because he actually had parents. What they cannot foresee is the reappearance of Rip Stinker into their lives, whose plan is to take control of these emotionally and physically fragile young beings and turn them into monsters who will wreak havoc on society at large while staying under his control. Billy, who is initially overjoyed to join with them, sees Stinker as a Pied Piper and refuses to go along with Stinker’s nefarious plans.
Following the geography and the terminology of The Land of Windhollows is made easier by a map of the land, which resembles a bear claw, and a full glossary explaining the customs and languages of the various peoples who live there.
Bane treats his readers to various monsters, sci-fi weaponry, and a unique story that delivers an impact as its characters find themselves, variously, as outcast, then friends, and finally, divided by their version of what constitutes a better life: a path of goodness or a descent into darkness.
The novel ends on a cliff-hanger, with everyone’s destiny hanging in the balance.