FF’s Star Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
The Four Lives of J.S. Freeman is a three-part science fiction serial written by Yvonne Anderson and Stillwaters is the first offering, promising readers a diverting journey into a mirror-Earth with its own histories, religions, and wonders. Studying the map of the fictitious world Umban, I see four major lands – the one called Centre City being the biggest to the south – and more or less eight islands in total, one of which, situated to the west, is called Freemansland, an island that was man-built and came to be known as “The Land of Many Mysteries”.
Jemima Freeman’s first life ended when she was around what she believed to be eleven years old. The last thing she remembers about that life is being dragged away by her older brother Ibro who had been in the process of doing something unthinkable, but was fortuitously stopped when her brother Jeriah showed up. Having learned that Ibro killed their father, Jemima’s second life is set to begin outside of Freedom, the level of Freemansland that Jemima is originally from. Jemima and her brother thus go on to live with their uncle, aunt, and cousins. The two attend school and Jemima, ever the Freemanslander, isn’t fond of this second life at all. As she ages in and outside of Freedom, can she learn to accept the ways of the City?
From eleven year old Jemima Freeman’s perspective, we learn that Freemansland is a not a natural island and that it was built long ago for a purpose long since forgotten in the time of her first life. Centuries prior to this first life of hers there had been a great war that had wiped almost everyone out. The young protagonist, who is also the first-person narrator, talks of fruits, vegetables, and animals – even dragons – that exist in her world. The island is made up of levels. No doubt a unique idea. Freedom, the one on which Jemima has lived all her life, is the second one from the bottom.
Jemima, fond of the cuss word “Cityslime,” is a protagonist with a self-willed personality, adding humor to the writing whenever it comes into play. When she wakes up after the whole Ibro event she Cityslimes the doctor, the first ever “citizen” she’s ever seen, like you wouldn’t believe. For the better part of her teen years, she hates just about everything that is the City; they are outsiders who live a more advanced life than Freemanslanders. As she gets older, her views change somewhat. She becomes a part of this whole other world that she hated as a little girl. But she is not just a little girl whose views have changed over the years.
She is a stellasede. Something icky is in Jemima’s brain, a worm that entered her while swimming in the stillwater back on Freedom. This is both good news and bad news for the protagonist. The stelli worms in her are asleep and while they are, Jemima can enjoy a couple of mental advantages like having a superior memory. The bad, she’s a ticking time bomb because if the stelli worms ever wake up, that’s it for her. At the school that Jemima and Jeriah end up attending, the girls in Jemima’s class learn about the worms in her brain and proceed to avoid her like she’s carrying a terrible disease. Jeriah, however, becomes popular and manages to turn a couple of heads from the girls and even some of the female teachers.
Mayne, a friend from Jemima’s first life, starts attending Freemansland City Academy East as well. There is great potential for something of a romantic nature between the two friends. This potential starts dying out as the story goes on, however. Greatly disappointing for me, sure. Mayne is taken out of Jemima’s picture when she, Jeriah and Mayne enlist in the City’s army. It is when she is older that another character, a true blood citizen of the City named Ashgrey Standtall who is also a military man and a superior to Jemima, gives readers hope that our protagonist can actually have a happy ending.
Considering that a more solid conflict is offered in the second half of the book when Jemima is already grown, I have to say that I wished that the author hadn’t devoted so much time as she did to her formative years. Anderson could’ve made do without some of the stages in her protagonist’s growth because the adult version of Jemima leads an interesting enough life to fill more chapters. My biggest disappointment is that Mayne didn’t play as big a role in the story as I thought he would. More could’ve been done with him if the author chose to.
In our world, the British empire set sail to conquer lands. Centuries later, most of the world are on equal grounds. What the author subtly explores in this unique world of hers is whether war is necessary for world advancement. If an advanced people choosing to invade a lesser world to ultimately elevate them to their level are absolutely within their rights. If this reason justifies it all. If everyone should just accept living by the rules of the greater power. “They invaded with the purpose of restoration. They hurt in order to heal.”
Imagine the autobiography of a talented female spy with a small chance of finding a man to spend her life with, but one that has grown up in an entirely different world than ours. If you like the sound of that, then this book is for you. The comparisons between our world and that of the author’s are without a doubt interesting to take a look at, but readers will marvel at Yvonne Anderson’s stubborn proclivity to make the issues of normal human beings the grand attraction of Umban, a fantasy realm that I still want to learn more of and can’t wait to return to. I wouldn’t say it’s as enjoyable as a regular fiction novel, but it’s definitely worth a read.
Date Published: February 11, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction
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