The Gifts of Life

Oliver Smuhar
Mountain Blue Publishing (2018)
ISBN 9780648332008
Reviewed by Skyler Boudreau for Reader Views (12/18)

In the fantastical debut novel, “The Gifts of Life,” author Oliver Smuhar brings readers on an adventure across a vast world rife with danger and obstacles. After a mysterious attack on the only city they’ve ever known as ‘home,’ young protagonists Perry and Faith must embark on a quest for answers in a faraway land called Everbreen. Their only guide is Perry’s friend Bailey, who has not seen Everbreen in several years.

Smuhar provides an interesting blend of fantastical and modern elements for his novel’s setting. Though he has crafted various fictional countries for his protagonists to explore, the setting includes references to modern conveniences, such as Facebook and wireless earpieces. These unexpected additions add a delightful sense of familiarity in an otherwise strange and mysterious setting.

In “The Gifts of Life,” everyone has some form of magical ability, whether it be the power of teleportation, the ability to manipulate glass, or even the creation of fog and other weather phenomenon. There is, however, a catch. These powers are only permitted for use one day a year in an annual celebration called the ‘Ascension Ceremony.’ Using them outside of that time is ‘breaking Taboo.’ This detail is both an intriguing and uncommon limit placed upon magic users in fantasy novels.

One area I would like to have seen more of is in character development. Many of the characters lack distinctions between each other, and it’s very easy to mix them up. The narrative is told through dual points of view in first person, switching back and forth between Perry and Faith. They read similarly, and it often feels as though there is only one narrator. Other times the point of view shifts from first person to third person and describes events separate to what the intended narrator is experiencing.

There are also times when the pacing of the plot shifts dramatically. On chapter covers a few day-to-day events, but then the following chapter skips ahead several months. It gives the overall story a somewhat disjointed feeling and makes the timeline difficult to follow.

With this lengthy debut, Oliver Smuhar proves he has great potential as an author. He can only improve his craft as he gains experience. Middle-grade readers and beginning young adult readers are sure to enjoy “The Gifts of Life,” a new, fantastical adventure from a promising young author!