I’ve always been a fan of Helaine Becker’s nonfiction and her picture books, but I was intrigued when I heard she had a new fantasy novel in the works.
Incorporating graphic novel elements illustrated by Alexander Griggs-Burr, and set in an alternate dystopian world, Becker hinges the turning point of Gottika on a character straight out of a Jewish legend, a Gol. These are magical creatures made from clay and earth and brought to life by powerful charms are charged with protecting against oppression. These incongruent elements come together to create a fabulous read enhanced by Griggs-Burrs visuals.
The story begins with fifteen year old Dany yearning for relief from the oppression of Count Pol’s reign. But, he is too young to know how to bring it about. As a Stoon, he, his family, and his friends are nothing more than second class citizens subject to the brutality of Gottika City’s Guards. Dany can’t understand why his father, a respected elder, doesn’t do more to stop the tyranny. Instead of acting, his father hides behind closed doors with the few books the officials have allowed him to keep.
Dany seethes with frustration that is further fueled by a father who treats him like a child and a mother whose secret past haunts her. Pol’s increasingly brutal actions force Dany’s father to take a stand, but not in a way that Dany had ever imagined. His father creates and breathes life into a Gol. The Gol is charged with protecting their people, but when his father is imprisoned and slated for execution, even the Gol can’t help, Dany must act to stop Count Pol.
Gottika is the perfect mashup that results in a great read; one that kept me awake until I turned the last page.