Dragonfall Press (2011)
Reviewed by Stephanie Gunn
The Tree Singer is the debut young adult fantasy novel from Danny Fahey, published by Dragonfall Press.
Twelve-year old Jacob lives in a dying fishing village. There are few fish, there are fewer friends for him and the whole village lives under the shadow of an oncoming plague. He has no hope for his life until the arrival of a stranger, Simon the Healer, who takes Jacob under his wing and teaches him the art of tree singing, helping Jacob on the path to becoming a master flute maker. This path will take Jacob to the city of Cathel, where Jacob and his friendships and relationships will be tested.
The general shape of this story is simplistic – there are no major twists and turns, with most events being predictable. As a whole, it reads very much as a fable or parable (and is, in part, inspired by/based on the Bible). This works in that Fahey manages to get moral points across, but it also gives the book a feel of thinness in terms of worldbuilding and character.
The world is somewhat frustrating – we only ever get to see a very small slice of it, as appropriate for a protagonist who begins young and in a small village. It would have been nice to have seen the world expand as Jacob grew, especially in terms of seeing more of the magic in the tree singing.
Jacob himself feels quite problematic in the beginning of the book. There is little to him until he encounters Simon – the reader is given very little insight into who he is and what motivates him until this point, which gives the feel of him existing merely so he can be told what his path and talents are. Fahey could have given the character much more resonance and depth if he had spent some time fleshing him out before he is, essentially, given his quest. The same is true for the relationship between Maddie and Jacob – this could easily have been deepened or foreshadowed before Simon’s arrival.
The writing itself is generally adequate – leaning more often towards the workmanlike than the poetic, it is absolutely on target for the target age range of 13 and up.
This is a debut which breaks little new ground, but still will likely entertain and appeal more to the younger reader than the older.