“We worship the same ‘One,’ and we live and share the same earth, here or higher up. We practice the same teaching, with just a few differences. What a shame our people can’t be friends.”

Where do you go when it feels like there’s nowhere you belong? What happens when you must defend your community to your dying breath, even as you chafe beneath its laws?

That is the reality of the protagonist in Lisa Perskie Rodriguez’s fantasy novel Laela and the Moonline (Gatekeeper Press). Laela is a Treedle — a society made up of three tribes that live in the treetops of the Aerizon. Life in the forest canopies is not as idyllic as it may sound, however; while the Treedle people are close-knit and caring, their traditional values keep women firmly relegated to the home. Laela, meanwhile, yearns to explore the wilds and find a more fulfilling life than the one she’d been assigned.

Yet on the forest floor beneath them lies an even greater danger. That’s where the Mergons reside, waiting for Treedles to venture down or fall from the trees. All her life, Laela has grown up hearing the horror stories of Treedles who have been captured, enslaved or outright murdered by the patrolling Mergon guards. Feeling stifled inside her community, but in danger outside its boundaries, is there anywhere Laela truly belongs?

SEARCHING FOR A CHANCE AT PEACE

Rodriguez takes the reader on a journey to the unearthly realm of the Aerizon. Detailed worldbuilding and lush descriptions build Treedle society into something that resembles an ancient civilization, immortalized in myth. The novel’s unique setting speaks to the author’s ability to create an extraordinary experience for the reader. 

That thorough worldbuilding also relays the novel’s message. Treedle society and the Mergons have obvious differences, and not only in the different elevations of the Aerizon that they inhabit. The Treedles have no sense of hierarchy or class beyond gender roles, whereas the Mergons have a draconian monarchy that regulates every citizen to a strict stratum, from nobleman to commoner to slave. 

Yet even with these stark differences, Laela finds astonishing similarities between the two groups. They both worship the same god, known as the “One,” as well as a whole pantheon of lesser divinities. The two warring societies even descend from the same civilization, united long ago as a single group. With so much in common, could it ever be possible for the two communities to reconcile?

Reminiscent of Clan of the Cave Bear and the story of the Na’vi in Avatar, Laela and the Moonline depicts how an individual’s bravery and determination can help break the poisonous cycle of prejudice. Laela is unafraid to stand up for herself and her people in the face of bigotry, even if she must disobey her own society’s antiquated ideas of what it means to be a good Treedle woman. Thanks to her tenacity and the help of an unexpected ally, the people of the Aerizon may finally have a chance at brokering peace. 

Ultimately, Rodriguez’s novel is a rallying call to readers, encouraging them to look at their own communities and find ways to bring about change for a better future.

*Trigger warning: contains scenes of enslavement, domestic violence and sexual assault.

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About Lisa Perskie Rodriguez:

Lisa Perskie Rodriguez is an international educator who lived abroad for over three decades. She worked as a teacher and school administrator in international schools in Colombia, South America, Guatemala, and Brazil. She raised her children in Colombia, which was her home for 21 years. She was privileged with the opportunity to serve the indigenous community in rural areas, the Wayuu in the Guajira region.

Experiencing different cultures and learning Spanish and Portuguese nourished her vision as a writer. She believes it is not only “nice” but necessary to integrate, listen to, and work with those who hold different world views. Diversity enhances and enriches us! If we are to champion a better, kinder, and more just world, we must develop our creative capacities in concert with our scientific and cultural knowledge.

Laela and the Moonline is her first novel. This book is dedicated to her grandchildren: Leyla, Mateo, Lucas and Gabriel, all promising world citizens with open hearts and a strong sense of social justice.