Saving the world is a favored literary theme. Like Atlas, nearly every hero or heroine of fantasy must carry the burden of the world on his or her shoulder, an often thankless job. Most of them, in true “reluctant hero form,” dislike the job very much. And yet someone has to do it. The same someone (or sometimes someone else) has to pay the price.
In Andrea Cremer’s Nightshade Trilogy, that price is measured in freedom fighters, the searchers. The searchers risk their lives fighting magical beings who cannot be killed so that Shay, Calla, Ren and their friends can save the rest of mankind.
As I read through the three novels, I wondered at the single-mindedness of the searchers. They know that many of them will not return from their missions, but though overwhelmed by truly supernatural odds, they still do not hesitate to volunteer their lives for what they believe is the greater good. Like ants, they work together for a single purpose, some dying so that others, more important than them, could go on. More than that, the sacrifice of a loved one is accepted as honorable and vital.
Having grown up with Joseph Trumpeldor’s famous last words, “It is good to die for one’s country,” I am torn between admiration and resentment for this utter dedication to a cause. Trumpeldor’s death as defender of Tel Hai is, in fact, inspiring when remembering how many Jews had gone like sheep to the slaughter throughout history. Fighting for one’s country, being willing to risk one’s life for one’s country — I was raised on these values, and they still fill me with a sense of pride at belonging to a nation where such heroes abide. And yet sometimes, hearing that soldiers, young men, were killed defending (for example) a grave which may or may not be the grave of a forefather who had died thousands of years ago, I am filled with anger at the sacrifice.
It is much easier for me to sort through my emotions when I’m only reading a work of fiction. Everything is so much clearer when there is really only one (or maybe two) plots going on. Love and war — those are the two themes in Nightshade and its sequels. Some love and lose, others love and triumph. Some dedicate themselves to the fight, sacrificing themselves so that their son or daughter, their friends, or simply the next generation could survive. It is so simple, really. The world must be saved. There is only one way to do it, and it is called self sacrifice.
We have a world to save, the young characters say. Indeed, they do. The story unflinchingly propels them forward through one sacrifice after another, through the deaths of comrades and parents. It is good to die for one’s country, for one’s group, for the greater good, for the world. Maybe, because it is fiction, those who die could come back, but still, they never do.