Corinne Duyvis’ 2020 The Art of Saving the World is a stand-alone contemporary fantasy novel.
Hazel Stanczak faces some of the same challenges that confront other teens. Such as worrying that her attraction to Marybeth McKellan might mean that she is gay1. But there’s one challenge no other teen on the planet faces: the interdimensional rift in her back yard.
The Mysterious Government Agency — so classified that the Stanczak family doesn’t know its actual name — wishes that it knew more than it does about the interdimensional rift on the Stanczak farm near West Asherton, Pa. The MGA does know that the rift appeared when Hazel Stanczak was born and that it goes wild whenever she gets more than a mile and a half away from it. The MGA’s determination to protect America from a rift run amok, while keeping the rift a secret, has defined Hazel’s life to date.
On her sixteenth birthday, Hazel discovers who she really is: Earth’s Chosen One! Which, as it turns out, is a destiny not to be desired.
Hazel doesn’t have time to blow out the candles on her birthday party before the rift goes wild. It starts emitting versions of Hazel from other universes. It uncouples from Hazel’s farm and starts to wreak havoc across the state. Worse of all, it releases trolls into an ill-prepared America.
As Hazel belatedly discovers, the rift has been depositing other-dimensional beings into her backyard for some time. The ever-vigilant MGA has descended on the visitors and sequestered them for the greater good. Since informing Hazel of this fact would only add to their security headaches, the MGA did not inform Hazel about the prisoners. Too bad, because the dragon in MGA clutches was supposed to have mentored Hazel about the task she now faces.
Hazel learns from her other selves that there are many people Hazel might be, although which one she actually will become (aside from extremely indecisive) remains unclear. Once Neven the dragon is freed and can speak with Hazel, Neven provides Hazel with an explanation more alarming than useful.
Neven is a very reluctant agent of the Powers That Be. Having stumbled across the cluster of universes of which Hazel’s is one, the Powers That Be uses them as stages on which the Powers That Be can mount thrilling adventures. Individual worlds are provided with world-threatening menaces and Chosen Ones. The Chosen Ones can rise to the occasion and save their world; they can fail, dooming their worlds. Either way, the result is always entertaining.
Thanks to the well-intended intervention of the MGA, Hazel is woefully unprepared to save the world. That doesn’t mean the Power in charge of the story will put the brakes on the impending end of the world. Across Pennsylvania, monstrous trolls assemble themselves out of common dirt. At first, they’re easy enough to disrupt but with time, they become more robust even as their numbers soar. The math is very straightforward: if no solution is found, the trolls will overrun North America in the near future.
The Powers That Be want to be entertained. The MGA wants to preserve America. Both of them are willing to sacrifice Hazel to achieve their goals. With the fate of her world at stake, Hazel is forced to ask if Hazel is willing sacrifice Hazel.
In general, I think we can all agree being the Chosen One is almost never a good deal for the Chosen One. It’s dangerous and stressful! In this case, the Powers That Be are just extradimensional jerks whose idea of a good time is setting off Plinian eruptions to make book on whether or not the puny humans can outrun a pyroclastic flow.
The author seems unlikely to revisit this setting, so we’ll never have a canonical ruling as to the consequences to the Earth in general and to the United States in particular of this public brush with interdimensional doom. The death toll and geographic extent of the events of the book appear likely to be larger than 9/11. 9/11 left a detectable mark on the US psyche. Presumable having a good part of a state chewed up, even if it were only Pennsylvania, would leave an even larger mark.
In parallel universe situations, the differences between iterations often comes down to personal choice. One version turned left, the other turned right. In this case, that does not appear to be the case. The other Hazels differ from the viewpoint Hazel in ways whose causes don’t seem clear. For example, a couple of them have endometriosis, while others don’t. As a consequence, the other Hazels’ experiences may interest Hazel Prime2, but they aren’t often relevant to her particular situation.
Hazel’s parents are not terrible people but they are not the most understanding or supportive when it comes to issues that fall outside a narrow range of accepted subjects. Even if Hazel weren’t the Chosen One, her teen years would have seen her wrestling with questions her parents would prefer not to acknowledge or if they must, would treat as a passing whim. The book spends more time on that aspect of Hazel’s circumstances than is usual for an apocalyptic thriller. In fact, one could strip out the end-of-the-world elements and still have a decent little novel.
One might expect that a protagonist who is dealing with complicated personal issues in an unsupportive context would be distracted; this would tend to slow down what would otherwise be a straightforward adventure novel. Hazel doesn’t get distracted. (Swarms of homicidal trolls work marvelously to focus the attention of even the most introspective of protagonists.) Hazel never loses sight of the fact she is facing what could be the end of the world. Similarly, neither does the book. There are side trips along the way, but progress towards the novel’s destination is steady and fast paced.
This isn’t my favourite of the author’s books. That’s still the author’s debut, On the Edge of Gone . It is, however, a well-written, nicely paced adventure.
1: Hazel’s attraction turns out to be more complicated than a simple straight vs gay situation.
2: The many Hazels manage the namespace collision efficiently. Yes, I’ve now read two books in a row that tossed the One Steve Ruleoverboard.