The lines between fantasy and reality are ones of mammoth proportions. They are often drawn by the hand of a common individual who finds themselves in a routine, or the hand of society. Once those lines are drawn, things that are considered “real” are kept on one side, and “fake” things are kept on the other – sometimes hidden from the naked eye. It then becomes difficult to sway an opinion about what’s real and what’s not.
The foundation for such strong opinions may be built from a shaky childhood experience, misleading life lessons or tough love. On the flipside, however, the foundation can also be built from good things – lessons which are taught by open hands rather than clenched fists. Thus, the lines that divide fantasy from reality can grow, bend and twist in whatever direction any given individual chooses. It’s not magic. It’s instead the notion that while terrible and tragic things do happen in the world, it is not expected for humanity to stay silenced, unprivileged and live with the belief that it has been stripped of free speech and creativity.
More often than not, however, society dictates precisely what is fantasy, and what is reality. The choice of exactly what to believe is then placed on the shoulders of everyone who lives and breathes, as does the choice to suspend reality and color outside the lines of what’s expected.
In her latest book, “Black Market”, the second volume of The Wizard Hall Chronicles, author Sheryl Steines puts this choice on display – and what can happen when the mind takes creative control – in a world reality currently rules with an iron fist. Steines creates her own world in which Annie Pearce, the main character of the story, must come face-to-face with her past when a dead body is discovered outside a magical portal in the space Steines has brought to life within the pages of the book.
Annie finds herself filled with worry and concern as she attempts to protect the safety and secrecy of this fictional black market. She finds an artifact on the victim that’s being sought after by a wide-eyed, wily reporter. Annie must then protect another deep secret.
This sets the scene for the rest of the book – which beautifully and eloquently combines themes of empowerment, social justice, resilience, balance, strength and vulnerability. The integration of these very real and powerful themes into a fictionalized world makes this book believable, but also, in turn, keeps things grounded for the reader while humanizing the characters, as well as the plot of the story. lends itself to the ever-present need to suspend reality at times. Times when the human potential to temporarily break free from the grasp of headlines and news reports outweighs everything else.
“Black Market” is the culmination of one of those times, or perhaps many of them. It’s a reflection of how humanity sometimes chooses to react when given bad news or when an obstacle stands in the way of achieving something. Perhaps one of the most stunning aspects about this book is the fact that it steps outside the realm of reality without stepping too far.
The storyline itself isn’t so far on the “make believe” side that the reader gets lost in silliness and doesn’t want to go on this journey with Annie and the rest of the characters. Not only that, but Steines has a brilliant way of depicting heroism in the common individual – whether it’s a man, woman, or child – as she does with Annie. This also makes the reader feel like heroism, as well as everything it represents, is accessible and should be thought of as something that’s not so much a rare act, but one that’s humble and in many ways, common.
This is this kind of awareness and empowerment that brings social justice to the forefront. The fact that it can be found within the pages of a fictional novel is a testament to Sheryl Steines ability as an author to merge the two – and still bind everything together and make it work. Not only is there an element of urgency, but there’s also a human quality which solidifies the notion that the reader can choose what to perceive as reality, just the same as fantasy.
In these modern times, it’s refreshing to be able to have that choice to make. It’s a distinct choice that ultimately shapes one’s world, but it’s perhaps even more refreshing to step outside a world that’s comfortable, and into another that isn’t. It’s with this sense of wonderment that society needs to be more open-minded and appreciative of those – like Sheryl Steines – who provide humanity with a creative platform and give us something to think about, rather than telling us what to think.
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Photos courtesy of Sheryl Steines