The Meq
Steve Cash
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Buy *The Meq* by Steve Cash

The Meq
Steve Cash
Del Rey
416 pages
January 2005
rated 3 of 5 possible stars
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The Meq starts in 1881 on a train on which the main character, twelve-year-old Zianno Zezen, and his parents are travelling to St Louis. A train accident leaves both of Zianno's parents dead, but not before his mother tells him to find Umla-Meq and the Sailor, and his father gives him a baseball. Z, as he is called, heals quickly from his grievous wounds and finds a traveling companion in Solomon J. Birnbaum, who takes him on as his business partner. They settle in a St. Louis hostel whose inhabitants come to be almost a foster family to Z. However, Z finds out that he has to stay moving so that ordinary humans do not notice that he doesn't age.

He finds another of his mysterious race, Ray, who tells him about the Meq. They are an old race of people, whose origins they themselves have forgotten, destined to stay physically at twelve years old until he or she meets with his or her Ameq, or soulmate, always another Meq of the opposite gender. The pair can choose together to enter Zeharkatu, the time for a Meq to grow up and have children with his or her soulmate. Entering Zeharkatu transforms them into ordinary humans except for the memories of their long lives. All of the Meq look almost exactly the same; some have special powers to influence the minds of ordinary humans. Five Stones give them their powers; each Stones belongs to one family line, and one Meq from each family carries that Stone to protect it. Z finds out that he has the Stone of Dreams, and he meets the protectors of three other Stones.

Z meets and befriends humans, but a rogue Meq called the Fleur-du-Mal - the Flower of Evil - kills some of them. Unlike the other Meq, who love peace and don't want to meddle in human affairs, Fleur-du-Mal is an ancient assassin who practically oozes evil. Z wants revenge, but there are more important things to do: the time of the Remembering is near, and the Meq need all of the Stones in order to learn who they are and where they have come from. Alas, the holder of one of the Stones is almost impossible to find, and she wants nothing to do with the rest of the Meq. Z and his Meq friends travel to Asia in order to find her.

Cash's writing style is smooth, and the mythology that he has created is intriguing. Clearly, he can create evocative scenes when he wants to. Even when the plot isn't fast-paced, he manages to hold the reader's interest. However, his style is somehow muted. His descriptions aren't colorful, even though he could have easily described St Louis, Singapore, or New Orleans with far more color, sounds, and smells. But the places aren't at the center of the tale; the characters are.

Most of his characters are nice and likable but without much color and emotion. Z doesn't seem to miss his parents, even though seeing your parents die gruesomely right in front of your eyes should be traumatic to anyone, let alone to a twelve-year-old. But Z moves on smoothly and quickly without experiencing much of any emotion except for curiosity toward the mysterious Sailor and Umla-Meq mentioned by his mother. On the other hand, when Z's human friends are killed, he wants to avenge them. Except for the Fleur-du-Mal, the ancient Meq characters are all serene and full of old wisdom. There are also strong hints that most, if not all, characters in the book know more than they are willing to tell.

The humans in the book come in two basic varieties: Z's friends, who understand and support the Meq, and people who want to exploit the Meq for their own reasons. Some of the latter variety keep one or more Meq around as lucky charms and prevent others from coming into contact with them.

Despite the fact that the story is told in the first-person point-of-view, there is an emotional distance between the reader and all of the characters. Z is clearly narrating the story from some later time, and his voice is dispassionate and somewhat somber; there is little humor in the book.

The idea of the eternally pre-pubescent Meq is intriguing, but Cash doesn't get much out of them.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Mervi Hamalainen, 2006

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