Note: This review is of a version of The Leafstone Shield that was at one point available on Jim Aikin's website. That version was substantially different than the new series published in November 2017. The review is therefore mainly of historical interest.
Jim Aikin seems to be a man of many parts. I first encountered him many years ago, via The Wall at the Edge of the World, an excellent SF story about how non-telepaths fare in a world of telepaths. From there, I found his earlier novel Walk the Moons Road, a convoluted and disappointing story about human interaction with a tri-gendered race. The effect of the first book stuck with me, and more recently, I searched out his website, www.musicwords.net, which offered a set of free stories, and the first novel in a trilogy. I turned both into ebook versions for ease of reading. The stories are quite different from the novels - they're pleasant urban stories with a mid-century feel, very Jack Finney-like. I recommend them.
Finally, then, The Leafstone Shield, the book I set out to review. This is yet another Jim Aikin, writing a YA fantasy epic. The book, which appears to no longer be available on the site, was written and self-published on spec, as the first in a trilogy. The other two books, whose table of contents is included, were available for purchase from Mr. Aikin.
Aikin's writing is smooth and easy to read. Disappointingly, the action is weak. The plot is a good if transparent story of environmental protection. But the execution is far less effective than The Wall at the Edge of the World or Aikin's short stories. In fact, it's fairly formulaic. Kyura makes only token efforts to resist her destiny, and the parts (including the requisite companions) fall in place with far too much ease to be really interesting.
The Leafstone Shield is not marked as a YA story, but it reads as one. There's little real violence, and the action is light and fun. The characters are relatable and likeable. Everything happens pretty much as it should, and while risks and threats exist, they are all overcome in the end. This book sets up the real action in Books 2 and 3, which promise to be similar in style.
As an adult, I found The Leafstone Shield lacking - it was too pleasant and predictable to really hold my interest, despite good writing. As YA fantasy, it is more successful, and could be especially appealing to girls, since there are a couple of strong and central young female characters.
If you're an Aikin fan and looking for more of his work to read, I suggest you search out a copy. The book isn't available on the website anymore, and the terms of the original prevent me from sending out copies, but I imagine that if you write to Mr. Aikin, he'll let you have one. This book isn't what I hoped for when I searched out Aikin's website, but it's a fun light read, and could be good for younger YA fans. You should also check out his much more mature short stories, which are still on the site. They're good, and well worth the time to look up.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.