My second book by Lisa Goldstein, who is very talented. I read The Red Magician (which won the National Book Award) first, which will be one of my favorites for the year, and this one just doesn't pack quite the same punch, but it is a different type of book so might not be fair.
Although both books are fantasy and steeped in magcial realism, The Red Magician in clearly in the genre of YA, and Walking the Labyrinth is definitely not. Philosophical and rather mystical in the same way that the novels of Paulo Coelho are, this novel seeks to teach a bit, I think. After all, the constantly repeated leitmotif is "What have you learned?"
"Oh God, your going to ask me questions again. You're going to ask me what I've learned."
"Well, what have you?"
"I learned--I learned that illusion is a way to truth. That illusion can reveal truth, a deeper truth. That there are things beyond or beneath or on the other side of what most people...think of as reality,"
Our main characters, the Allalies, are a family of illusionists that trace their origin, their magical one at least, to a old secret society called The Order of the Labyrinth, which is both an actual physical, metaphysical, and magical place, but also symbolic of the twists and turns of the lives of the characters--all of whom are charged with this quest to recognize what it is that they must learn. That might be my only real complaint with this otherwise very enjoyable novel--I found the didactic element to be rather heavy handed.
Molly, both a member of this powerful yet odd family, but not of the inner circle, embarks on a quest to find a lost family member who may have been murdered, perhaps by another family member, and in the process track down the origins of the secret Order of the Labyrinth and encounters very real and dangerous opposition. I found the first two thirds of this book to be a thrilling page turner that slowed down only when it came time to unravel the mystery.
At the end, we are once again asked to self examine as Molly asks a new question--
"What am I capable of? I've walked Fentrice's labyrinth, but what would happen if I walked my own? What would I find at the center? What sort of monster is lurking there, what horrible emotions do I have that I keep hidden away, that I never look at?"
The answer is that even as we contemplate and perhaps judge the actions of others, we still are actually walking our own labyrinth and confronting our own personal monster--desire, addiction, cowardice, greed, or even devastating sorrow that overwhelms and controls us. It is how we deal with our own personal Minotaur that makes all the difference.
4 stars for great writing and a compelling story line.