Where the Valley Meets the Sky by Ben Merrick

SPFBO Status: cut

Medium: ebook

Overview (No Spoilers):

The plains of Kalanos are home to numerous clans. Despite being nomadic by nature, the peaceful Achare people recently settled in an area for the shelter and sustenance it provides. While the Achare are more accommodating of those in need than other clans, they’re still wary of anyone who manages to survive dangerous situations, believing them to have received unnatural help. Having nearly drowned as a child, Rennik has firsthand experience of how the superstitious treat such individuals. To make matters worse, Rennik’s childhood was cut short following his father’s death, forcing him to take on more responsibilities to support his family. One day, Rennik spots dust on the horizon from warring clans, hinting at the trouble to come. So, as a skilled tracker, will he help his people determine the severity of this threat or will he choose to run and save himself instead? Should the Achare stay to defend their established home or is it time to return to their nomadic lifestyle?

Published in June 2021, Where the Valley Meets the Sky is the first book featuring Rennik by Ben Merrick. The story starts off by acknowledging that trouble is coming before backtracking and offering background on the Achare lifestyle and how things got to that point. Merrick has crafted a realistic backdrop for this narrative, from the terrain to the creatures that roam it. The traditions and beliefs of the Achare are well thought-out and interesting as well. Merrick’s writing style makes it easy to get sucked into the tale. I also enjoyed how each chapter starts off with a short, relevant quote from one of the characters or a passage from a book on Kalanos and its people. Although the storylines are completely different, the history-through-storytelling aspects and the rustic setting reminded me of The Nothing Within (an SPFBO 6 participant).

The primary characters are all distinct, with those you’ll love and those you’ll love to hate. While Rennik continually evolves throughout the tale, I would say that he comes across as a little wishy-washy at times since he is repeatedly placed into roles that he’s not ready for nor wants. But aside from when people are being cruel just to be cruel, Merrick does a great job setting up valid reasons behind opposing views, so I’d probably be indecisive too. As for the fantasy side of things, this became more apparent at the halfway mark with the introduction of farsight, where some individuals can see events from the past, present, and future. I thought it was really interesting how folks gained this ability and I hope Where the River Goes (the sequel to this book) continues to explore it. Where the Valley Meets the Sky introduces the Achare to a new foe in a way that just scratches the surface, leaving the reader excited for what comes next!

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound!):

  • The impact of the Delkhi feels a bit like an invasive species with the ability to control the host for the purpose of self-preservation. And for whatever reason, I pictured something like Mother Willow from Pocahontas to represent the Delkhi.
  • What happened to Gatsi when he was younger that he is also able to communicate with the Delkhi? Does the other Delkhi resemble a tree? Where did they come from? How many are there? If they are indestructible, what is this Delkhi afraid of?
  • Where did Gatsi run off to? It seems odd for Gatsi not to say something to Rennik before he left (although he does mention it’s okay to choose yourself over others in order to survive, essentially). Will Rennik find him again?
  • Will Rennik find his mother? Will he find the Turin woman? How many of the Achare survived the attack? What abilities does Avid now have from his connection to the Delkhi? What abilities can the Delkhi share with others in general?
  • What is the pale man’s ultimate plan? What information is he (or his king) searching for? How did he learn of the Delkhi? Why is he trying to bring the clans together? Purely to have the manpower to scare folks into giving up Gatsi?
  • Who does Rennik overhear talking while he’s stuck in the ripgut (after running from the charging bison)? Zamri Malnostos and another? If so, why do they wait so long to kill the chieftain and attack the village? Did they want to take out some of the warriors sent in scouting parties first?
  • Since Rennik doesn’t know about all of the candles when he and Tenal discuss their traditions, did Gatsi omit information about the fourth candle, the one that you lit for the king on a full moon? Why does Gatsi seem to be afraid of a king (presumably the same one the pale man works for)? Where does Gatsi originally come from?
  • What does end up happening to Ikoda and Macha? Are they actually dead?

Vocabulary Builder:

Augury – omen, portent

Bellicose – favoring or inclined to start quarrels or wars

Brontide – a low muffled sound like distant thunder heard in certain seismic regions especially along seacoasts and over lakes and thought to be caused by feeble earth tremors

Gambol – to skip about in play; frisk, frolic

Somnambulant – walking or having the habit of walking while asleep

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