Root Bound is the first of a planned quartet called Emma and the Elements. This middle grade fantasy series follows Emma as she comes of age and discovers how her unique magic can restore order to the mysterious land of Under.
When Root Bound opens, we learn that Emma Sheridan is always on the move. Along with her musician father, who wanders from town to town in search of work, Emma is a girl looking for a place to put some roots down. They never stay anywhere long enough for her to make real friends. And it doesn’t look like this time will be any different. Her first night in their creepy, sad-eyed apartment building, Emma has a run-in with the mean old lady down the hall. And life at her new school isn’t any better.
A trio of girls she dubs the Gorgeous Gang bullies her relentlessly, only backing off when the terrifying school principal intervenes. To top it off, there are voices coming from the walls. Voices that only Emma hears. Voices that appear to be attached to basement brownies—a race of fairy that hail from Under.
After they realize she isn’t a monster after all (this takes some convincing), the brownies tell Emma that they are on a quest to find the Wanderer—a journey Emma will soon find herself embroiled in. What follows a fairly lengthy setup is a rollicking, fast-paced journey through Under, where Emma encounters odd-tasting soup (and lives to tell the tale), along with well-known mythological figures who aim to help and hurt her as she tries to free Under from the witch’s clutches. What she learns there will turn everything she thinks she knows upside down and begin her transformation as a hero—if she can survive the experience.
Gough layers this urban fantasy with rich detail, allowing the reader to see and feel what Emma does. Emma is also a likeable, relatable protagonist who grasps her magical destiny with pluck and grace. The bullying theme is one that may also hit home with parents and children alike. The basement brownies are similarly charming, and reminded me a bit of Pratchett’s Feegles (but without the penchant for gratuitous violence). Emma’s father isn’t as well-rounded as the rest of the cast, but he doesn’t appear in enough of the novel for it to make a major impact on the storytelling. Particularly skillful is Gough’s use of familiar mythology, which infuse her world with a palpable sense of history.
For those of you who are looking for a light-hearted adventure, Root Bound will leave you laughing, crying, and wanting more.
Root Bound is available in both print and ebook formats. I downloaded my Kindle edition at Smashwords. Overall, the edition is error-free, although I found it difficult to navigate across chapters using the rocker, probably because they weren’t marked in the metadata. This might also explain why I was unable to jump directly to a chapter using the table of contents listing. Real page numbers would also be a plus.