Reviewed by Alex Binkley
A common piece of advice for aspiring authors is to write what they know. Madonna Skaff-Koren has done just that in her debut novel Journey of a Thousand Steps. Like her main character Naya Assad, Skaff-Koren suffers from multiple sclerosis but that hasn’t stopped her from being a fixture at Ottawa-area literary events.
Naya launches a search for her best friend Valerie after she mysteriously disappears. Before long a second friend has vanished without a trace and Naya is unable to convince the police something untoward has happened to them. Meanwhile her home is ransacked and her computer stolen hampering the efforts of Naya and her hi-tech associates to discover what’s happened to them. It’s a story of unexpected twists, which should appeal to mystery fans who like to solve the clues as they’re presented.
Through it, Naya keeps pushing against the limits that MS has imposed on her body and drags her upstairs and into dangerous locations convinced she is doing the right thing. With every step she does make, she moves closer to solving the disappearances. The ending certainly wasn’t where I thought the story was going. It moves along a steady and engaging pace with Naya determined not to let MS stop her from she wants to do, much like the author.
Skaff-Koren was diagnosed with MS two years ago although she had been suffering puzzling symptoms before then and her experience with the disease has been much different than the sudden onset in Naya’s case. Readers who know little about the disease will better understand its devastating impact as they track Naya’s search for her friends with the help of work colleagues Travis and Taylor. “A lot of authors put a bit of themselves in a story,” the author adds. “In the story, Naya is quite stubborn like me. Also like me she wants to do as much as she can on her own.”
While she drew on her experience to work the MS angle into the story, Skaff-Koren says its hi-tech components required the kind of research writers often need to give their book the ring of plausibility that many readers are looking for. Her professional background is in laboratory work. Skaff-Koren, who has written science fiction short stories in the past, says mystery has gained her interest in recent years.
Journey of a Thousand Steps is published by Renaissance Press of Ottawa.