For those that don’t know, Vardaesia is the final book in The Medoran Chronicles, a YA fantasy series by Australian author Lynette Noni.
This series had me hooked from the start – it both satisfied the expectations you had from a YA fantasy novel with a female protagonist, yet it was also original enough to keep you interested and invested in what happened next. In a nutshell, the series follows teenager Alexandra Jennings, who accidentally stumbles through a door on Earth into the fantasy world of Medora. Without having a way back home, she starts attending Arkanae, their school for teenagers with extraordinary gifts (she eventually discovers hers is strength of will). However Akarnae is at threat from Aven Dalmarta – the series’ evil villain from another superior race.
I won’t say anything more about the other books, as I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t read them yet. So for those who haven’t I’d say stop reading this post now, and go out and get the first book ‘Arkanae’ – you won’t regret it!
Vardaesia kicks off pretty soon after the previous book ends – Aven Dalmarta is in power, and Alex and her friends are about to ask the ancient, powerful race of Tia Aurans for help in one last bid to gain alliances before the final face-off with Aven.
The structure of this book reminded me of The Hunger Games, in the sense that the Gates of Testing felt like a ‘games’, with the Tia Aurans watching as spectators. One thing I appreciate about the series is that Noni hasn’t stuck to the same structure throughout. While a lot of the books were in the boarding school setting, reminiscent of the first six Harry Potter novels, with the threat outside the school, she’s also switched it up with a time-travel book, and in this case the games structure.
It did feel like the Gates of Testing were a large chunk of the book – at times it had me wondering just how long they would go for, and how quickly the climax of the book would have to wrap up. But I felt like it was a clever way to reveal some of Alex’s secrets to her friends, rather than pure exposition. It definitely raised the stakes. And it was also nice to have some time spent on Alex and Kaiden’s relationship – finally!
I already mentioned one similarity to Harry Potter, with the characters staying at a boarding school for gifted students, and the subjects and teachers forming a large part of the story. I found there were other similarities as well, particularly in this book. One is the strong theme of friendship – in the absence of Alex’s parents, her friends are really like her family in this series. Up to this book they’ve been through a lot, and in this one we see the emotions and some of the ugliness come to the surface. There are confrontations as they find out what Alex has been hiding from them, but they’re eventually resolved. Ultimately the message is that like Harry Potter, Alex could have never come this far on her own. She’s needed her friends who have stuck by her side no matter what, even when she hasn’t always made the best decisions or been totally honest with them.
The other similarity is in the final showdown – it happens at the school, where it all began, with all the different characters throughout the series coming together for one last fight. Even the way Aven was defeated was almost on a technicality – Alex was the only one with the will and power to claim him, and like in Harry Potter, Harry was the only one with the blood link to Voldemort.
I think these parallels made me like the book even more – I felt a certain nostalgia, almost like the book was giving a nod to the Harry Potter series for having influenced the author (a bit of this is speculation on my part, but I’m pretty sure I’ve read that she is an HP fan!).
Overall I thought it was a clever ending – I like that Aven was ultimately defeated rather than killed, and that it was through wits rather than a purely physical fight. It felt true to the character of Alex, and it kept me guessing as to how exactly Aven would be defeated until the very end. What can I say, even though I’m in my late twenties now, books aimed at teenagers still seem to be my cup of tea! (Except obviously now I say things like ‘my cup of tea’…)