A rabbit with the secret ability to read. An axe wielding bear. A warrior princess.
Together, they must find the fabled Library of Elshon, and fight the human empire bent on turning animals into mindless beasts of burden.
In the sequel to the award winning “Theo and the Forbidden Language”, Theo, Brune, and Indigo must find the infamous and feared muskrat, Orjo the Terrible. For only he can lead them to the legendary Elshon, a lost library in a land where reading and writing are punishable by death. At Elshon, Theo hopes to find the cure to Pacification—the empire’s power to make animals mute and mindless.
But can they find the Library and its hidden powers before Theo’s enemy, the vengeful human warlord Ornox, hunts them down? Can they even trust the notoriously conniving Orjo? It’s a race against time and overwhelming odds as Theo and his team must test their friendship, courage, and wits to uncover the secret to defeating the empire. For fans of Redwall, the Chronicles of Narnia and Watership Down comes a fantasy adventure about faith, self-acceptance, and the power of the written word.
Theo and his friends, the warrior rabbit princess Indigo and the bear Brune, are forced to drink with Orjo (a sly muskrat) in order to persuade him to lead them to the fabled Library of Elshon.
“There now! I suppose we should toast.” Orjo raised his cup. “Last to drain has manure for brains.” At their stiff expressions, he sighed. “Mankahar is losing its sense of fun along with its freedom, is it? You’ll never get me to take you to the Library if you don’t drink.”
Brune and Indigo each took cautious sips, while Theo couldn’t get beyond the smell. He pretended to drink, but kept his lips closed. Even so, he immediately wiped an arm across his mouth. Indigo made a guttural sound and nearly spat it back up.
“It tastes better once your tongue goes numb,” Orjo said, refilling their cups. “That’s the way. Now, who else knows you’re here?”
“No one,” Theo said.
“The sea bats,” Brune blurted. He looked surprised, then grimaced, as if trying to get the taste of the drink out of his mouth.
Orjo drained his cup again. “Good. Anyone else?”
“An otter rowed us here in his boat.” Indigo frowned, as if confused by her own words.
The muskrat chuckled at her expression. “Like I said, brew loosens the tongue, doesn’t it? So it sounds like you’ve exposed my whereabouts, and more than once. Doesn’t make me want to help you.”
“Even if it meant defeating the Urzoks?” Indigo pushed her cup away.
“That’s a noble cause. But I’ve found noble causes tend to be bad for your health.”
“The stories say you’re immortal,” the bear growled.
“I can live forever, if that’s what you mean. But that’s assuming something like a blade, let’s say, doesn’t find its way into my neck.” Orjo raised his cup. “To life! And longevity.”
At his expectant look, Brune downed his drink, and Indigo reluctantly pulled her cup back for a sip.
“How did you become immortal?”
“That’s a long story.” Orjo brushed Theo’s question away. “And I’m doing the asking here. Tell me about you, Griffinrider.”
“I never rode the griffin.”
Orjo made a sour face. “Some free advice, from one legend to another? Never spoil your reputation with truth, lad.”
“So your advice is to lie.” Theo sniffed his cup. It definitely didn’t smell like any liquor he’d known.
The muskrat put his eye to the bottle, then shook it and listened. “There’s a difference between lying and letting others believe what they want to believe. And I’ve enjoyed all the stories about you.”
Orjo stood, teetered unsteadily, and half walked, half groped his way to the cupboard, where he began to rummage for another bottle.
“You’re not the one who has to survive the stories.” Theo thought back to the bats. The exaggerations about him were almost more dangerous than the Urzoks themselves.
“True! My favorite is the children’s song.” Orjo pushed aside a jar, then pulled out what looked like another bottle of liquor. Not satisfied, he put it back and kept searching. “Aha!” He pulled out a third bottle and returned to the table. “Have you heard the children’s song? No? The gulls sing it once in a while when they pass through here, it goes like this:
The omatje’s riding now
Riding now, riding now
Theo the Omatje’s riding now
On his wings of flame.
Hide your gold and lock the door
Lock the door, lock the door
Hide your gold and lock the door
For Theo the omatje rides tonight.
“Infantile,” Orjo said, setting the bottle on the table and fishing out a knife from his pocket. “But catchy.”
“We need you to find the…” Indigo frowned, as if trying to herd her thoughts. “Library. And then I can kill you.”
Theo and Brune stared at her. She glared at Orjo. “There’s something in this brew!”
“I told you, brew makes conversation flow.” Orjo leaned forward. “So you want me to take you to the Library, and then kill me. Is that your plan?”
Theo had never seen Indigo drunk. She had the occasional cup of ale, he knew, but she was too keen on control to ever let it get any edge on her. But she clearly had no control of her words and seemed to know it.
“Well, Theo,” Orjo commented. “Seems you don’t know your own friends’ intentions. Doesn’t make me trust you.”
“Orjo, no one is killing anyone! We just want to find the Library,” Theo insisted.
Now Brune was swaying a little, eyes glazed. Theo had a sudden, random memory of his best friend Pozzi from Willago, who’d always argued that drinking brew was like sport. You got better at it with practice. How practiced was Orjo? Could he possibly outdrink a bear ten times his weight?
Orjo had managed to work the wood cork out of the bottle and began refilling the cups. “The cups don’t lie, Theo.”
Theo cursed his stupidity, and snatched the drink from Indigo’s paw. But it was too late. She slumped over the table. Brune stared at her, blinking.
“The cups…” The bear managed a slur of words and tried to stand, but his legs wouldn’t cooperate. Bottles and sheaves of paper flew as the giant crashed into the wall, then slid to the ground, blinking.
“You poisoned them!” Theo scrambled to his feet and put a paw to Indigo’s nose. She was breathing. Brune tried to push himself up on the toolbox, but only managed to knock it over before succumbing to the brew and lying still.
Orjo calmly poured himself another serving. “I said the brew wasn’t poisoned. And it wasn’t.”
“What do you call this then?”
The muskrat smiled. “A very simple truth tonic that I dipped the cups in. I needed to know who you told about my island. But if you manage to kill me, they’ll wake up with nothing but nasty headaches and the thirst of a four-humped camel.”
Theo clumsily freed Indigo’s sword from her scabbard, trying to keep his paws from shaking. “And if I don’t?”
The muskrat wiped his lips with his sleeve and stood. His smile, unlike his stance, was disturbingly sober. “Then I kill all of you.”
Melanie was born in Windsor, Ontario to a Chinese mother and a Canadian father, and grew up in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Beijing. She spent grades one to three in a Chinese primary school with concrete floors and no heating, so when she moved to a school with carpets and its very own library, she thought she’d gone to heaven. She spent all her free time devouring books of every kind—including ones that most adults probably wouldn’t recommend for children. Animal Farm, Watership Down, and The Chronicles of Narnia became staples, with a generous helping of Stephen King thrown in. She is currently a producer and screenwriter, with an MFA from USC in film producing. Over her diverse career she has directed a zombie film, been held at gunpoint, and had the good fortune to work with some of her idols. She lives with her husband and two impossibly energetic children in Ballarat, Australia.
Melanie enjoys writing dark fantasy stories about the power of language, self-acceptance, and the courage to stand up for one’s beliefs. Her first novel, Theo and the Forbidden Language, was the winner of Best YA at the 2018 IndieReader Discovery Awards, and the sequel, Theo and the Secret of Elshon, will be released November 2021.
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Theo and the Forbidden Language (The Book of Theo #1)
For fans of Watership Down, Redwall, Lord of the Rings, and Dragon Riders of Pern comes a fantasy adventure about courage, friendship, and the power of the written word.
In the land of Mankahar, where reading and writing are punishable by death, a battle is raging. The human empire is robbing animals of speech using a poison called “pacification,” and is marching to the furthest corners of the land to enslave creatures large and small. The only thing standing against them is the Order, a society of free animals determined to defend their way of life. On the western fringes of Mankahar, the rabbit Theo hides a secret: he knows the forbidden language, the symbols used to “catch words”. When his village exiles him, he joins Brune, an axe wielding bear and loyal member of the Order, in the epic fight against the empire. But the Order’s cause proves dangerous. Whom can Theo trust, when the empire punishes those who read or write with death? Worse, his fellow animals view the written word as sacrilegious. As the war for Mankahar’s fate looms, Theo must risk everything to learn the full power of the forbidden language, or be silenced forever.
Available on Amazon
My thoughts: growing up most of my favourite books were ones with animal characters (Black Beauty, Narnia, Redwall Abbey, the collective works of Dick King-Smith, KM Peyton, The Animals of Farthing Wood, City Cats and many, many more, all of them rife with traumatic storylines in many ways) And of course I read Watership Down, another deeply traumatising book and one I was definitely a bit too young for (I think I was about 6 or 7). I still have the slightly tatty paperback copy I found in our house when we moved in.
So I was excited to read about Theo and his friends. I recommend reading the first book so you know all the ins and outs of the world Theo lives in and why he’s so special. It also helps to understand the world building and mythology underpinning the friends quest in this book.
In this installment of Theo’s adventures, the naive bunny and his friends, set off in search of the mythical library of Elshon, where Theo will hopefully be able to find a way to stop the Uroks (humans) and reverse the grim pacification process that robs animals of their speech and intelligence. Along the way they meet new friends and enemies, and Theo has be braver than ever.
This is a really fun series, although definitely not for children as it is violent and some scenes are upsetting – no one likes to think of animals hurt or killed, even by sword wielding animals! I like the magic system being words and Theo’s ability to read being what makes him so special – all the answers they need are in books. I like Theo, his journey towards being a hero is interesting and he uses his herb knowledge to help others as well as his “word catching”. His friends, Brune and Isabel are brave and supportive, they’re much more battle hardened than Theo is but they help him in other ways too. I hope there’s more adventures to come.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.