The Search for WondLa written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, 466 pp, RL4

The Search for WondLa is now in paperback
and Book 2, A Hero for WondLa just hit the shelves!

I'm going to begin my review the same way Tony DiTerlizzi begins The Search for WondLa - with a pinpoint focus close-up of the main character and hero of the story, Eva Nine (pronounced "Eh-va" and not "Ee-va," as I learned when I watched a clip of the author speaking about the book.  I always like to know I am saying the names properly in my head as I read. I hate being thrown off later when I hear a name/word pronounced differently...) Extra tidbits, my thoughts on the book and the answer to the question, "What exactly IS a WondLa?" can be found at the end of the review.

The view from Eva Nine's world is almost as narrowly defined as the first illustration we see of her.  DiTerlizzi works in the first three chapters of the book to give the reader a sense of the restricted and constricted life that Eva Nine is living underground in a home that she refers to as Sanctuary. The lone human in her world, Eva Nine is not alone. Muthr, the Mulit-Utility Task Help Robot zero-six, acts as her caregiver. Despite being a robot, Muthr truly is a mother figure to Eva Nine, even referring to her as her daughter at several points in the story. While Muthr is infinitely skilled and capable of caring for Eva Nine's physical and emotional needs, she is also (understandably) cautious, over protective even, as she prepares Eva Nine to live above ground at some time in the distant future.   

DiTerlizzi begins his book with Albert Einstein's quote, "If you want your children to be intelligent, READ THEM FAIRY TALES, If you want your children to be more intelligent, READ THEM MORE FAIRY TALES." (Caps DiTerlizzi's.) I couldn't agree with this more and, while The Search for WondLa has fairy tale elements, there is no appearance (yet) of the traditional magic employed a fairy tale but I think is could be included in this genre nonetheless. In The Search for WondLa, magic has been replaced with seemingly magical technology. There is the Omnipod, a handheld device that is all knowing and instructive and can project holograms of the items being inquired about. The Omnipod can also function as a medical unit, perform x-rays and provide instructions on how to administer first aid. Then there is the amazing intelligent clothing that Eva Nine wears. Besides the sneakboots that also act as a pedometer, there is the jackvest which is worn over a utilitunic. Both are made from climatefibers which can tighten or loosen depending on the wearer's warmth needs. The utilitunic can also alert the wearer when attend to anatomical needs such as hydration and eating. Even better, pieces of this clothing can be removed and used for other purposes, like a splint or a bandage, the intelligent fibers acting on their own volition to attend to the wound. And these are just the wonders from the first few chapters of the book.

Besteel and his boomrod

It is a good thing that Eva Nine has these marvels at her disposal because she is soon driven from the protection of Sanctuary and Muthr when the hunter Besteel tracks her down and destroys her home with his boomrod, a sonic device that blasts its targets with a wave of sound. Eva Nine tries to hide and survive in the mysterious world above ground, not a single aspect of which matches the information in her Omnipod. She makes her way to the other Sanctuary that she knows exists and finds Rovender Kitt, a Cærulean who has lost his wife and child and decided to roam the planet alone. Before the two can even find a common language they are captured by Besteel and hung from a tree by their feet.

Rovernder Kitt and Eva Nine's first meeting

Working together, the two escape Besteel's camp, but not after they witness countless other captured creatures, one of whom Besteel slaughters for food. The companion of the slaughtered creature, which was a juvenile tartigrade or water bear, begins to communicate telepathically with Eva Nine, asking her for help in monosyllabic sentences. Feeling a connection with the behemoth, Eva Nine risks her life to free him and in turn he flies Eva Nine and Rovender Kitt away from Besteel's camp. From there, Rovender reluctantly accompanies Eva Nine and Otto, her name for the water bear, as she attempts to find other human beings on the planet, which she learns is called Orbona.

The clairvoyant Arius, sister of Zin

The places and people that the trio encounter on their journey are anything from friendly to curious,  malicious to indifferent and always full of interesting details.  Because the reader shares Eva Nine's ignorance and wonder at the world she has emerged into in The Search for WondLa, we wander the planet with her, never really knowing what is happening or why or, most importantly, where to go next.

Queen Ojo, her guards and the Royal Taxidermist, Zin

One of the most interesting characters the reader encounters is Queen Ojo, who's throne resides in the city of Solas. Queen Ojo is the daughter of King Ojo, a creature we learn had the ability to "reawaken dead planets - bring them out of their hibernating slumber," which is exactly what he did with Orbona.  The creatures who inhabit Orbona arrived a few generations ago during the Great Migration, fleeing war-torn and dying planets. With the help of her taxidermist, Zin, Queen Ojo seems to be filling her own version of a Natural History Museum, taking living specimens and, when they meet her approval, asphyxiating them with a paralyzing spray before mummifying them. Some of the specimens are skinned to reveal their musculature before going on display, much like the cadavers in the BODIES Exhibition that has been touring the nation for the last few years. There are a few creepy parts in the book and this is definitely one of them, along with the slaughter of the juvenile water bear and a Jabba the Hut-type clairvoyant, Arius, sister of Zin, who talks like Yoda and consumes gadworm eggs (a tiny thing can be seen wriggling inside through the clear eggshell) twenty-three at a time, which apparently keeps the gadworm laying.  The "endless tapering worm" is suspended throughout the house on cords that hold the curtains up. Speaking of the Star Wars Universe, I felt like Besteel and the Halcyonus, inhabitants of the water village Lacus, are channelling Jar Jar Binks when they speak, pluralizing words inaccurately ("Holds on") and using exclamations like "Sheesa!" as well as saying things like "Goody for Besteel.  Goody for my brozeel. Twoz of you in one day." I am not a huge science fiction fan, books or movies, so what do I know?  As with the fantasy and magic genre, I am sure that there are only so many creations and contrivances that can be circulated within the genre.

A view of the Wandering Forest
You don't have to read a single page of The Search for WondLa to fathom just how much creativity and love DiTerlizzi has poured into this first book in what is to be a trilogy. From the amazing cover art to the author blurb on the back that cites inspiration from the likes of the Brothers Grimm, JM Barrie L. Frank Baum, it is obvious that this trilogy is going to be a fabulous ride. As a lover of art (and a huge fan of DiTerlizzi's stye) I was thrilled to learn that his new series was going to be rich with illustrations, and indeed it is. With over 70 pages of illustrations, the art work is distinctive of DiTerlizzi style but is clearly something a little bit new and very much suited to the science fiction subject matter of the story.  And, in true science fiction form, The Search for WondLa includes augmented reality aspects to enhance the story telling (as well as a map and a guide to the Orbonian Alphabet included in the back of the book.) Used with a computer that has a camera, the website allows you to experience the glories of WondLa-Vision. When you present any one of the three designated illustrations in the book (an Omnipod) in front of your webcam, WondLa-Vision shows you different aspects of a 3D map of the regions explored in the story. The map floats in front of your face and, so to speak, walks and talks as you observe it. You can learn more about this as well as the plans for a movie version of  The Search for WondLa at DiTerlizzi's Imaginopolis Blog.

*What is a WondLa? Much like my review, I can't tell you everything without giving away the plot, but if you read around the clues that DiTerlizzi has left, in his own words, it's not too hard to figure out.  What Eva Nine and the reader know at the beginning of the book is this: WondLa is a scrap of a picture that Eva Nine found in the deep recesses of Sanctuary, a hiding place that she believes Muthr is not aware of. This scrap is also the only thing in Sanctuary that was not manufactured for a specific purpose. The picture shows a child, and adult and a robot, all holding hands and looking happy. For Eva Nine, it is a symbol of what her future might hold - the love, happiness and community that she hopes awaits her.

Book 2, A Hero for WondLa

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