Aidan Errolson is a 12-year-old shepherd boy in the island kingdom of Corenwald. The son of a nobleman, he leads an easy life, but he dreams of adventures like the ones his father and grandfather experienced as pioneers on the eastern frontier. Aidan's quiet life comes to an end when he meets young Dobro Turtlebane in the opening chapters of The Bark of the Bog Owl, a new fantasy novel by Jonathan Rogers.

Dobro is one of the feechiefolk, a tribe of swamp dwellers who, while wild in appearance, actions and smell, are wise in their own way. A chance encounter leads to friendship and then to astonishment when a stranger named Bayard the Truthspeaker arrives at Longleaf Manor to announce that Aidan is the long -prophesized Wilderking, a leader who will "give the land back to her people." When the Pyrthen Empire lands on Corenwald's shores, threatening to conquer the island through force and treachery, Aidan's destiny is forced upon him. Rogers holds a Ph.

D. in 17th-century English literature, and his erudition shows in the thematic elements of The Bark of the Bog Owl the prophecy, the quest, the young hero coming of age. In one key element, however, Rogers turns this classic tale on its ear, and that is in its narrative voice. Rogers' characters have as much in common with Huck Finn as they do with Frodo Baggins. The author himself says the swampy settings of the novel are rooted in his native Georgia, and those places lend a freshness to the story not found in many other modern fantasies.

The Bark of the Bog Owl also owes a debt to the works of C.S. Lewis in its conscious use of God as a presence and a force in Aidan's life. The boy's most perilous adventure reminiscent of a certain biblical story finds Aidan facing a seven-foot-tall warrior because everyone else in the army is too scared to fight him in one-on-one combat. To avoid revealing any key elements of the plot, we'll just say our hero proves himself worthy of the challenge.

The Bark of the Bog Owl is a top-notch addition to fantasy literature. The first volume in an anticipated Wilderking trilogy, this stirring and richly imagined story should attract a faithful following of young readers. James Neal Webb barks out his book reviews from his bog in Nashville.

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