Marly Youmans' Thaliad offers a healing balm to the swath of nihilistic post-apocalyptic fiction for young adults. Told in free verse reminiscent of heroic epics (Homer meets Gerald Manley Hopkins), Thaliad recounts the aftermath of a fiery apocalypse and the perlious journey of a band of children led by a girl whose prophetic visions guide them to a sanctuary on the edge of a lake. Here, they confront the challenges of re-creating the world – a world illuminated by hope and love.
For young adults (and the rest of us!) this a wondrous text filled with richly layered and evocative poetry, packed with fairy tale and mythic references. Like a bardic tale, it demands to be read aloud.
Nature along the road appears rotted and ruined by violence, the sky is thick with ash and poisonous rain drops of quicksilver. But Nature at the sanctuary along the lake where Thalia's visions have led them is fertile, sensual, a source of healing. Here is the spring pollen, ripening even as the children are, who seven years later have become young adults:
"...Clouding the air with fertile shining silt
That somersaulted in a beam of sun,
That changed the spiderwebs to something rich,
That kissed the surfaces of Glimmerglass
And turned its scalloped border into gold,
That moved across the air as if alive,
The landscape's bright epithalamion,
The simple golden wedding of the world."
Violence is hammered into fierce staccato rhythms -- the beating of swords and young men made mad with battle lust.
"...Close-pressed, crashing, the fell clamor of shields,
The crossroads, grand climateric of blood,
Jar of womb-shattered, the rib-comb unteethed,
Janglings above corpse couch, red butcher bed,
The bronze swords wading in a swamp of flesh
Like toddlers splashing in a muddy slough,
Hell-scathers scraping blade along the bone,
Blood-spree, blood-spore rose red on snow-white yard....
...To the hour when Cain is ever slaying
Abel in the dark eternal backward."
Balanced against the terrifying darkness and the fire's destruction are Thalia's prophetic visions, soaring with heat and golden light as the human spirit is nurtured by the divine. In an abandoned Church a grieving Thalia confronts an angel, its blasted face open to the pouring of sunlight behind it:
"...The sunshine made a starburst where the head
Once shone, auroral work of Tiffany;
The star face brought a lightening of flesh
To Thalia until the piercing rays
Transformed her body into stariness,
And rain of light made reign of light within,
Til she was drowned and nameless in its flood,
And there with trembling let the angel speak..."
Thaliad has two narrators -- Emma, the librarian who almost seventy years after the fire reflects on the history of the Clave, the settlement founded by Thalia, and then Emma as the storyteller, the bard who recounts the perilous journey through the devastated land, Thalia's determination to follow her visions, and the lives of the children as they struggle to survive. Though we are not spared their hardships and grief, through the storyteller’s voice we have confidence in our destination—it is this commitment to the angels of our better nature and Marly's sublime poetry that gives Thalid its power to inspire hope out of fear and love out of hate.
I also must mention that the book will be gorgeous as Marly has collaborated again with Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins who has created the cover art (which I love) and a lot of beautiful interior art. Head to Phoenicia Press (a small indie press in Montreal) and watch for Thaliad's release this November.