Elissa’s Quest, by Erica Verillo, was published in 2007 by Random House.
Elissa leads a solitary life. She knows nothing of her parents—only that her mother is dead. Her caretaker, Nana, keeps her father’s identity a secret from her. Meanwhile, Elissa carries her own secret—the people of the valley must not know that she has a magical Gift. For now, she is just a healer’s apprentice in peaceful High Crossing, but she dreams of a more exciting life and of someday finding her father. Then, one day, an unexpected royal guest arrives and Elissa’s life changes forever. She leaves home with him, only to discover that she’s become a pawn in a battle for his kingdom. Accompanied by her dear donkey, Gertrude, she is delivered to the evil Khan. Elissa’s quest for freedom and the truth about her past leads to questions about the future and her role in a prophecy everyone seems to know about but her.
I tried really hard to like Elissa’s Quest, but I found it incredibly difficult to get past the perfection of Elissa as a protagonist and the overall stale feeling of the world. I hope Verrillo expands and improves on her world in the next two books (though I doubt I will read them), because the world in this book is so bland with absolutely nothing new in it. I did appreciate that she included all the different cultures, but we saw so much of the world so fast that I couldn’t soak it up at all.
And, yes, Elissa is way too perfect, and it’s more and more noticeable the further into the book you go. She always knows exactly how to respond in every situation, she never overreacts, and she accepts everything that is thrown at her with complete calmness and understanding. The bit with her magic at the end is pretty cool, but by that point I was so aggravated by her perfection that I was even more aggravated by the appearance of her Awesome Powers, which she executes perfectly of course.
Also, when I first started reading, I thought the book was written in the 90s due to the cover and the overall style and feel of the writing and the world. I was surprised to discover that no, this book was written in 2007. I actually think this book would be better if it had been written in the 90s, because its overall feel is very 90s fantasy.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“I don’t see how I can play a part in all this,” she said at last. “I certainly can’t raise an army for you.”
“Yes, you can,” Falk countered. “The Khan hires out mercenaries, and very fine warriors they are indeed. He has also promised me a loan to help cover the soldiers’ upkeep until I win the war.”
Elissa’s Quest is not really a stand-out “bad” book, but Verillo does little to make her world memorable and unique, and Elissa is the perfect Mary Sue character. That, plus my overall apathy throughout the entire book, leads to my 1 out of 5 rating. The covers for the next two books are cool, but that’s all that attracts me to the rest of the trilogy.
You can buy this here: Phoenix Rising #1: Elissa’s Quest