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The Legend of Sarah by Leslie Gadallah

Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin

Occasionally, a book can surprise you, and every so often an old book can become new. The girl on the cover, Miss Sarah, with her Children of the Corn stare, makes me decidedly uncomfortable—enough to keep the poor wench face down on my shelf when my nose wasn’t in the book. But as I began to read, the author’s grasp of language, and ability to spin a tale like the story weavers of old, drew me into this page-turner with its delicious descriptions.

The Legend of Sarah is a science fiction novel reminiscent of John Wyndham’s, The Chrysalids. Set in the not-too-distant future following an unexplained apocalypse, we discover divergent societies separated by knowledge and technology. It took me several chapters to understand the reason behind these names: Philes and the Phobes, so I’ll tell you. The Technophiles live in a high-tech enclave somewhere in the American Midwest, but their resources are dwindling. The Technophobes are an old-time agrarian culture living in the City of Monn (Montana? Minnesota?) ruled by a genteel governor and a fire and brimstone preacher.

When the legendary Sarah takes a shine to a handsome Phile archaeologist named Reese, who’s come looking for answers among the Phobes, societal differences magnify into a xenophobic frenzy. Using her ingenuity and what little magic she can muster from an old crone named Cat Anna, Sarah takes it upon herself to free her wounded crush from the Phobe prison.

What intrigues me about this novel is that it’s a reprint. Alberta author, Leslie Gadallah, originally published it with Del Rey in 1988 as The Loremasters (that paperback is still available.) But Shadowpaw Press is republishing it now, thirty-four years later, to the delight of a new generation of Sci-Fi and Fantasy lovers. With its strong, female, teen protagonist—Sarah is competition for Katniss Everdeen—I recommend it to Young Adult plus readers, and also middle and secondary teachers and librarians.

The deep theme is one of Identity and Difference. Current examples run rampant from topics of Truth and Reconciliation to American politics and religion, so there’s plenty of room for discussion.

Gadallah is a chemist by profession and has written popular science for newspapers and radio. In the late 80s, she authored four Sci-Fi novels and several short stories. Gadallah’s grasp of language both captured and comforted me as I sank into this treasure. Descriptive phrases charm and impress: “the whuffling grumble of a horse” or Sarah sitting “on the stone wall like a ragged pixie” evading a redheaded boy and smiling “a crumb-laden smile.” Warning: magical literary language lurks throughout and, like Reese, you too will be captured.

Gadallah has a gift, and the good news is that more is coming. Empire Of The Kaz is soon to be released by Shadowpaw Reprise.

The Legend of Sarahis published by Shadowpaw Reprise, Regina, 2022

W. L. Hawkin is a genre-blender who writes the kind of books she loves to read. She publishes with Blue Haven Press.


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