Will her father ever come home? Our protagonist Emi clutches her well-worn teddy bear and anxiously paces while a thunderstorm rages outside. Accidently waking her drunken mother passed out in front of the television, the little girl dodges a flying wine bottle and runs back upstairs. A rope dangles from the hall ceiling. She never knew there was an attic! She pulls the rope and the stairs descend.
Emi, the first of a new fantasy series for young readers, is from a new author named Ian Primeaux. Now in his twenties, he started writing short stories in high school inspired by classic role-playing games. “This book is kind of a mixture of several different ideas I had written about in the past. I found a way to make them all fit together,” he says.
Analogies to the fast action and split-second decisions of video games abound. Lightning flashes while Emi explores the dark attic. Peering into a large open chest, she accidentally drops her bear, and like Alice chasing her cat Dinah down the rabbit hole, Emi falls in after Teddy and lands in a very strange place.
TO SAVE A BELEAGUERED KINGDOM
It’s a scene of utter decay. Plants are dying and leaves turn to dust as they hit the ground. All comparisons to Alice’s fairytale end as ravenous black hounds, the size of wolves, surround Emi. The surprise hero who rescues her is none other than her lost Teddy. He’s now a huge creature, but his mouth is still the same row of crossed stitches.
All this action occurs in the book’s first ten pages and doesn’t stop until the very end. When the beleaguered kingdom’s royal guards discover that Emi can produce a shrill, piercing whistle that makes the black hounds cower and whimper, they take her and Teddy back to the castle. Perhaps the little girl can help the queen find a way to end the deadly plague and evil monsters that have appeared across the land.
Mystery and magic deepen when Emi learns that her father is one of the queen’s top scientists working on solutions to the evils afoot … and he’s been missing for days. Undaunted, Emi decides she must find him and sets off to trace his steps with a few trusted guards. Oh, and Teddy, of course. Emi and company quickly find themselves fighting for their lives against scary, fantastical creatures, and afterward must return to the castle to recover. Emi decides that to be successful in this new world, she must learn magic; the queen’s library has several helpful books on the subject. She also trains with the royal guards, and Teddy gets refurbished and weaponized. The outcome is for you to discover.
SURPRISING SOURCE OF INSPIRATION
“I played a lot of the retro Final Fantasy games and the Tales series growing up,” says Primeaux. “I loved them because of how long and extensive the stories were. It was always about a group of odd characters coming together to achieve a common goal,” he adds. To provide non-gamers with some context, Final Fantasy is an anime-inspired video game series that began in Japan in 1987 on Nintendo. Tales is a high-fantasy series, also from Japan.
Primeaux says he’s had a positive response from most of the younger readers ages 10 and up, as well as from adults who enjoyed the book. “The best consistent feedback I’ve gotten so far is that most people said they couldn’t put it down. My goal now is to keep writing and building on the world I created to tell dozens of stories. It’s just fun.”
In fact, book two of his Emi series is expected this month and we’re looking forward to another inventive story.