Allyson S. Barkley read from her new book A Memory of Light at the Mudhouse October 2, sponsored by the Bluebird Pop-Up Bookstop. She also visited Kelly Burnette’s Creative Writing class at WAHS on October 4.
In this rollicking fantasy adventure—book #1 in the planned four-book series, Until the Stars are Dead —Barkley creates a richly imagined world replete with fairies, sorcerers, unicorns, mermaids, nymphs, and magic—even a map. As Civil War between the Malavi and the Zaeran rebels lays waste to the country, tough, skilled thief Ari accepts a dangerous mission that will allow her to pay off a major debt. In this heroine’s quest, we learn that Ari was raised and taught fighting and survival skills by her brother Dav after their parents were killed by the army. Setting off across the country with her unwelcome male companion Ely, the pair fight their way out of several narrow brushes with death and capture. As they learn to trust one another and share important revelations, we come to realize that neither of them knows the true power of the stone they’ve been assigned to steal. In the tradition of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (1996), Ari has an “anima”—an animal soulmate in the form of a bobcat named Jagger, who travels with and protects her. “Jagger is basically Ari in cat form,” Barkley explained during the question-and-answer session that followed her reading.
A 2014 graduate of Western Albemarle High School (WAHS), Barkley studied international affairs at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and is now pursuing a graduate degree in public policy and law at Duke. The fact that she grew up an avid horseback rider is reflected in the book’s detailed, authentic horse passages. “The germ of the idea for the book came to me while studying abroad in Spain between my junior and senior years of college,” she said. “While hiking by myself through Switzerland, the dramatic landscapes and exotic folklore—full of dragons, fairies, and more—led me to imagine a journey-based quest story. I wrote the first draft in a year, but spent four more years editing and revising before a publisher accepted it.”
In this impressive debut, Barkley creates well-developed, psychologically authentic characters whom we care about, and an exciting plot that keeps us turning the pages. The narrative is refreshingly linear—without the constant shifts in time and character that are so much the rage in today’s fiction—and leads to a surprise, cliffhanger ending. The second book in the series will be released in the spring of 2022. To follow the author or receive updates, visit asbarkleybooks.com.