cover image The Memory Theater

The Memory Theater

Karin Tidbeck. Pantheon, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4833-3

Tidbeck straddles fantasy, coming-of-age drama, and horror with an exciting, sometimes wrenching tale of friendship and time travel. The parallel world of the Gardens was conceived by its founders to be “perfect, innocent, unravaged by the passage of time, like the Arcadia of myth,” says a librarian who helped with the project. Except, of course, it’s not that innocent. Members of a ruling class called the Masters live only for pleasure; those who serve them have their real names withheld and are constantly tortured with body art carved into them with teeth and nails; and when teenagers grow up they are killed. Dora and Thistle are best friends who manage to escape the Gardens and embark on a journey through the outside world. As Dora and Thistle look for their names and a way back home, they travel through a variety of worlds in which the meaning of humanity changes often and the duo learn to trade favors on their way to freedom. Expansive and wildly imaginative, the narrative mixes fantasy elements with enough violence to satisfy horror fiction lovers (“Thank you for your service. Your death will be slow,” says a Master before stabbing a boy with a knife). This fast-paced fantasy will please fans of quest stories who don’t mind a bit of darkness. (Feb.)