The World Above is one of the more recent offerings in publisher, Simon Pulse's Once Upon A Time series. In this fractured fairytale, Dokey combines the fairy tale, Jack and The Beanstalk, with the myth of Robin Hood to create a very unusual story.
Gentian and Jack are fraternal twins who live with their mother in the World Below. Their situation was becoming dire so one day their mother sent Jack to town to sell their only cow, Agapanthus (seriously, that is the cow's name!! and it is also the name of a plant known as the African lily). Fearing that he would do something stupid both Gen and Jack's mother urged him to be practical and to drive a hard bargain. Jack returned home after encountering an old woman who gave him seven beans with magical powers in exchange for their cow. Instead of being angry however, their mother shed tears of joy for she recognized the beans as a way back to her home in the World Above.
Jack and Gen have been told a bedtime story by their mother as they were growing up. Now they learn that that story was in fact, not a tale, but the story of their mother's life before she came to the World Below. Their mother, Celine Marchand, married the much older widower, Duke Roland des Jardins who ruled over a small, prosperous kingdom. Duke Roland was very good friends with another nobleman, Horace de Trabant, kingdom was adjacent to Roland's. De Trabant's son, Guy, came to live with Roland upon his father's death. It was the hope that the two dukedoms would be united by the marriage of their children some day. However, that was not to happen. Duke Roland met Celine Marchand at Guy de Trabant's wedding and they were married soon after. However, Guy de Trabant was not happy at his guardian's marriage because should Duke Roland have a heir, Guy would not inherit Roland's land. Guy rose up against Duke Roland, murdering him and seizing his land.
Meanwhile, Celine des Jardins, suspecting she was pregnant, went to visit her nurse, Rowan. When she learned of her husband's murder, Celine realized she must flee. With the help of her nurse, and one magical red bean, Celine climbed down a beanstalk from the World Above to the World Below. Rowan tells her,
'When the time is right, a messenger will come to the World Below. You and your children will be given the means to return to the World Above. It may be many years before this day comes, but never doubt that it will. Prepare your children well.'
The fact that Jack has returned with seven magical beans means that it is time to return to the World Above to reclaim Duke Roland's kingdom. But Jack must have some way of proving who he is. Celine shows Gen and Jack the Roland family coat of arms which has a sack overflowing with coins, a goose in flight along with a lyre that speaks the truth and a beanstalk. They are symbols of the des Jardins family power and of the covenant between the family and the people they govern. These also represent gifts given to the des Jardins family to help them rule wisely. The wizard prophesied that these gifts would someday help to restore the des Jardin's family power.
If Jack is to restore the Roland seat he must retrieve all of the wizard's gifts from the usurper, Guy de Trabant. They decide to send Jack to the World Above on a reconnaissance mission,
to see the state of affairs. Jack returns with a bedraggled goose and a
sack filled with a few coins. But he must return to retrieve the lyre which is being held at the de Trabant castle. When Jack does not return after four weeks, Gen knows she must try to find her brother and remove Guy de Trabant from their land. Little does she know, she will receive help from a most unlikely person.
The merging of two storyline was the most surprising aspect of this story. Dokey manages to make everything tie together quite nicely, while adding a hint of romance. This novel, short and sweet, has much potential that sadly was never really developed. The characters are interesting but not fully developed. The villian, Guy de Trabant, is featured only briefly at the very end. The hint of romance is only barely present, but again is left to the reader's imagination at the end of the book. Dokey incorporates a bit of Robin Hood into the storyline that makes for an excellent twist. Overall, The World Above is a good story, that leaves readers wanting so much more!
Nevertheless, this is short novel will be great for those who want something a little different to read.
The World Above by Cameron Dokey
New York: Simon Pulse 2010