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The Meq

Steve Cash


UK Paperback

ISBN: 1 4050 0011 2

Pages: 430; Price: £10.99

Date Reviewed: 25th January 2003

Reviewed by Serena Trowbridge © 2003




The blurb on this book states "the Meq are an ancient, mysterious, secretive race who have lived among us for centuries". Reading this book, it becomes evident that the Meq are, on the whole, a cross between Superman and Harry Potter; Meq never grow older than twelve, physically, and have the power of magical stones, with which they can stun their enemies, among other things. The story begins with Zianno Zezen - known as Z - traveling with his parents through the Rocky Mountains on a train, which crashes. All passengers except Z are killed, and he is given a message by his dying parents that he must find Umla-Meq. Young Z begins to realize that there is a whole side to his own existence that he knows nothing about, and this novel, described as a "lyric fantasy", tells of his search for his own race and identity.

With a driving force of this kind, 'The Meq' could be a powerful allegory for our time, a message for a world on the brink of war, but sadly it is nothing of the kind. Rather, the plot concentrates on searches for individuals who may or may not be able to rescue the protagonists from a rather vague danger, and panoramic views of history as witnessed by the ageless Meq, including cameos from Attila the Hun to Oscar Wilde and T S Eliot. Each chapter opens with a Meq word that indicates the events taking place, such as Ezezagun (Stranger) and Zor (debt). It is easy, however, to spend too long puzzling out the pronunciation of the Meq language, especially with words such as "Bitxileiho" and "Txopitea". Each chapter then has a lyrical and abstractly philosophical passage on the theme of the title-word, which is clearly intended to enable the reader to relate the world of the Meq to our own world, with varying degrees of success and hindered by slightly stilted language.

The central theme of the plot, a young boy searching for his identity, is somewhat formulaic, but as an introduction for a reader to learn about the world these characters inhabit it is a tried and tested method. As is often the case with the first of a trilogy, this book labors under the burden of introducing characters, tribes, traditions and cultures that will become the basis of the next two books. Cash does this fairly well, explaining the history, rituals and magical powers of the Meq in a manner that makes them interesting, if not believable.

Unfortunately, however, the portrayal of the individual characters suffers somewhat from this, and Z and his fellow Meq, Ray and the numerous other characters sometimes lack a dimension of personality, though this could be an intrinsic problem with characters who do not age and mature. Personally I found it difficult to become involved with the plot and the characters, but shall pursue this with Cash's further novels. As a first book, however, it has its merits, and with some meticulous historical and cultural details of the tribe it should provide a sound basis for the subsequent two books of the trilogy.