This series works in a traditional quest format: obtain goal, receive gifts that help in the quest, gain companion with necessary information to complete quest, defeat terrible monster, obtain treasure. The first seven books follow that pattern. A story like this can become tiring and predictable if not executed properly, but Emily Rodda managed to shake up the story enough to engage the readers without disrupting that necessary pattern.
The story begins where it always does: book one. The Forests of Silence sets up the main story arc quite nicely by killing the king. The king supposedly dies as the result of a fever, leaving his young son, Endon, to assume the throne. Jarred, Endon’s childhood playmate, becomes suspicious of the death and curious about the artifact the Belt of Deltora that was to be worn only by the king on the day of his coronation. Jarred begins delving into the shelves of the palace library, and he finds a small blue book containing the history of the belt. The book weaves the history of the kingdom of Deltora, telling of how the Shadow Lord once tried to overtake the realms, but a blacksmith by the name of Adin united the seven tribes and drove the Shadow Lord out of Deltora. He did this by collecting the seven gems of the tribes, talismans of powerful magic alone but together form a spell that could protect the lands from even the Shadow Lord’s terrible magicks. The book also warned that the Shadow Lord is patient and clever, and is covetous of the beautiful lands of Deltora. Jarred goes to tell Endon what he learned, but is instead accused by Endon’s chief counselor of being a traitor and assassin, and is forced to flee the castle. Jarred is taken in by a blacksmith outside of the palace walls, and learns that the people are starved and bitter, believing to have been long ago abandoned by their king. Jarred can do little to convince them otherwise, he being an outcast, and so he joins the blacksmith at his forge. Years pass, Jarred marries the blacksmith’s daughter, Anna, and while all doesn’t seem well in the slightest, Jarred remains alive and whole. Then, as Jarred’s wife is pregnant with their first child, Endon sends out a signal asking for Jarred’s help. Jarred goes to him, and Endon begs for forgiveness for believing that Jarred would ever be anything but loyal. Endon then reveals his suspicions that the Belt of Deltora is in danger, and he and Jarred go to check on it. They find the belt itself, forged by Adin’s hands, horribly mangled, and the seven powerful gems missing. Endon’s chief counselor, Prandine, reveals himself to be a minion of the Shadow Lord and tries to kill Endon, Jarred, and Endon’s pregnant wife, Sharn, who, in turn, kills him. But it is already too late for them to save Deltora from the Shadow Lord. All Jarred can do is smuggle Endon and Sharn out of the castle to safety as the Shadow Lord descends and conquers the kingdom. And boom! The villain wins by the seventh chapter of the first book.
Sixteen years later (otherwise known as chapter eight), our main character, Leif, appears. He’s the son of Jarred and Anna, longtime blacksmiths of the city Del, running wild amongst the gutters and ruin of the once great city. It is here, on Leif’s sixteenth birthday, that they set him on his quest. Jarred has repaired the belt, but the gems are still missing. Leif must find all the gems which Jarred has learned were hidden in the seven most dangerous places in Deltora: the Forests of Silence, the Lake of Tears, the City of the Rats, the Shifting Sands, Dread Mountain, the Maze of the Beast, and the Valley of the Lost. And naturally each place is guarded by an evil, powerful guardian. Jarred gives Leif a sword and Anna gives him a magical cloak, and they introduce Barda, one of the palace soldiers who had escaped the slaughter sixteen years earlier, who is supposed to accompany and protect him as he braves each challenge.
As the title of the first book suggests, they begin their quest in the Forests of Silence. They’re almost eaten as soon as they cross the borders of the forest and are saved by the wild child, Jasmine, and her two animal friends, Kree the raven, and Filli the hedgehog. (Let me clarify for you Hobbit fans out there: hedgehog, not dwarf. There are two l’s.) They learn that Jasmine has been living alone in the Forest since she was seven, ever since her parents were dragged away by the Shadow Lord’s soldiers, the Grey Guards. She acts as the first guide to the Guardian, using her ability to talk to trees and animals to help Barda and Leif defeat him and claim the first gem for the Belt. The topaz grants Jasmine a vision of her mother, confirmed dead, who tells her that she needs to join Barda and Leif on their quest. Jasmine joins them, along with Filli and Kree, making their duo a stoic trio.
In the next book, they make their way to The Lake of Tears. They have to cross into Thaegan’s territory to reach the lake itself, and that is not an idea that pleases Jasmine. Thaegen is an evil sorceress in the services of the Shadow Land who had long ago cast ruin on the lands. They meet one of Thaegen’s victims at a bridge, a cursed warrior forced to kill travelers if they don’t answer his questions correctly until lies joins with truths. Barda and Jasmine answer the guard’s questions correctly, but Leif fails, forcing him to find a way to break the guard’s curse to survive. He gives the guard a trick answer that unifies truth with lies, and he is able to continue. The trio rescue a Ralad named Manus from the Grey Guards, but in escaping the soldiers, they fall into a trap laid by Jin and Jod, two of Thaegan’s children. Manus helps them escape and leads them to his home, where they all rest and recuperate before going on to the Lake. There they confront the Guardian, Soldeen, who, in exchange for the ruby at the bottom of his lake, asks them to leave Manus to keep him company. They refuse, even though Manus is willing, and Leif manages to talk Soldeen into giving him the ruby. Thaegen finally appears just as Soldeen surrenders it and starts blasting everyone until Kree kills her. Her death breaks all the curses she cast upon her subjects, restoring Soldeen to his former glory and returning voices to the Raladin. Leif locks the next jewel into the Belt, and the trio press on, after Manus swears to someday repay their kindness.
Book 3, City of Rats, has the three travelers visiting a merchant named Tom, who sells all sorts of fascinating items. They buy several important items that will later help in their quest (though they don’t know it at the time). This is also where my favorite character makes his initial entrance, though he remains an unknown in this book with only a small part. Tom sells them creatures called muddlets, in lieu of horses, and when Leif ignores Tom’s warnings about keeping to the left, the muddlets take the companions to a strange town called Noradz. There they find themselves a part of a germophobic society run by the nine Ra-Kacharz. There they meet a young girl named Tira, whom Leif saves from a sound lashing at the hands of Reece, the head Ra-Kacharz. Reece takes an instant disliking to the trio, and takes advantage of discovering Filli on Jasmine’s shoulders to try to have them killed. Leif outsmarts him at the trial, and they are only imprisoned. When Tira discovers that Reece has no intention of feeding or watering them, she helps break them out instead. The trio escape in Ra-Kacharz garb (solid red ninja costumes) through a hole lined with moss that kills when it comes in contact with skin. The costumes, as well as the souvenirs from Tom’s shop, help them reach the City of Rats without getting devoured by the R.O.U.S.es that live there. In the city, the giant snake who rules and guard the gem lures Leif to the center so he can eat him easily. Jasmine chops its head off while Leif is in its mouth, nearly crippling and killing Leif, and the remainder of the fire beads from Tom’s shop catch the city on fire.
Next up is The Shifting Sands. Here, they nearly get discovered by the Shadow Lord’s Ak-Baba, the dragon-bird equivalent of ringwraiths, and almost stung to death by the crazy cat lady of bees, Queen Bee. From there, they make their way to Rithmere where they compete in gladiator type battles to earn money to buy provisions for the remainder of their trip. It’s here that Doom remerges and gets a name as a fellow competitor in the games. He secretly attacks them and locks them in their room, trying to keep them from entering the games. When Jasmine manages to make it to the finals, Doom tries to drug them to keep them out. Jasmine refuses the offered drink, and instead finds herself face to face with Doom in the championships. Her agility is a win against Doom’s strength, but when the innkeeper suggests taking an alternate way out of town to avoid thieves and ruffians, they end up in the hands of the Grey Guards on their way to more violent games in the Shadow Lands. Doom frees them and asks them to join him and his rebellion, but they decline and continue on their quest. When they reach the shifting sands, Leif goes into a form of daze, the guardians of the desert using a form of hypnosis to bring him to the center of the desert where they can claim the coveted Belt for themselves. Leif’s mind clears, allowing him to remember their confrontation with Queen Bee and her mentioning that smoke calms her bees, allowing her to get their honey. He uses that trick to calm the Hive beneath the sands enough to retrieve the lapis lazuli. Jasmine looks optimistically toward the next spot on their journey, while Barda and Leif dread it.
Dread Mountain comes next in the series. The trio find refuge at the Dreaming Spring, drinking the water and experiencing very real dreams. In Leif’s dream, he finds his parents’ forge branded by the Shadow Lord and his parents gone. Terrified by the horrible revelation, he wakes up and finds a Kin, a strange, kangaroo, bird, dog thing named Prin. He befriends Prin then rescues her from a pod of Grey Guards. To repay him, Prin’s family agrees to fly them to Dread Mountain. Prin follows them and gets stranded with them during a storm. She helps them fight a Vraal and helps clear a path through the thick Boolong thorns. They make their way to a secret entrance of the Dread Gnomes and get caught in one of their vacuum sealed death traps. They use their supply of water from the Dreaming Spring to figure out the way out and simultaneously discover the grotesque, giant, poisonous frog that enslaved the gnomes and guards the emerald of the Belt. They break through the two-way mirror that sealed them in the tomb and convince three of the gnomes to help them defeat the frog. One of the gnomes betrays them almost as soon as they enter the frog’s cavern, and he is the first one to die at the hand of the frog. They try to use some of the Grey Guards’ blisters (poisonous sacks the Guards would sling at their opponents) on the frog, but the frog mocks them for using his own poison against him. The gnomes confess to leaving jars of the poison at the base of the mountain as tribute, and the trio infer that the Shadow Lord uses the frog’s venom on his enemies. Leif remembers that the spring water warns those of evil intent not to use it, and throws a bottle of the water down the frog’s throat. The frog almost chokes on the bottle itself, but then the water’s magic begins its work and turns the monster into a frog, sending the emerald tumbling down into Leif’s open hands. Leif convinces the Dread Gnomes to form an allegiance with the Kin, and the Dread Gnomes give him a gold-tipped arrow, telling him to send it their way if he should ever need their help. The gnomes then promise to leave a harmless decoy substance at the bottom of the mountain for the Grey Guards to use instead of the frog’s venom, and the trio press on to the next place on the map.
In The Maze of the Beast, we are introduced to a new species called Ols, shapeshifters created by the Shadow Lord to enact his many plans. Two Ols would have killed out three heroes in the first chapter of this book if they hadn’t been rescued by one of Doom’s young companions, Dain. Dain tells the trio about Ols and leads them back to the Resistance’s stronghold. Doom, remembering the last he’d seen of the companions they had been heading into the Shifting Sands, accuses them of being Ols themselves, and imprisons them until he can tell for sure whether or not they are who they say. Much like what had happened in Noradz, Doom leaves them in the prison, but after the required time, Dain lets them out and asks that they take him to Tora, Del’s sister city. They let him think that Tora is their destination and escape the mountain, encouraging him to talk and tell them what’s been happening. Jasmine decides that she has become a liability to their group because she’s too unique, with her wild-child hair and Kree always following her, and splits away from their company. The three men continue on, a bit forlornly, and reach a town on the riverway, who’s people had been murdered and treasures plundered by pirates. It upsets Leif that huamsn would treat other humans this way of their own free will, especially when the Shadow Lord makes life miserable enough for all humans, and he makes himself a promise to exact revenge upon the pirates for the town’s sake. They get on board a river barge and sail down the river, eyeing their companions distrustfully until one, a fine lady in purple silks and make up, turns out to be Jasmine in disguise. Their boat is attacked by the pirates that attacked the village, Dain is captured, the Belt is taken, and Barda is thrown overboard to get eaten alive by the carnivorous leeches that lurk in the water. A little ways down the shore, Barda emerges from the water, quiet and sullen. Jasmine and Leif are delighted to have him back, but his change worries them. They stumble upon a map with notes from the pirates saying that they had been hired by Doom to retrieve the gem in the Maze, and Barda convinces them that the quest is lost. A second Barda attacks the first and kills him, revealing that Barda to have been an Ol intent on getting the pair to give up. The three get captured by the pirates and learn that they plan to sell Dain to the Shadow Lord because Doom fosters a fondness toward the boy. They manage to get the belt back thanks to a thieving polypan, but the pirates throw them and a mutinous pirate into the maze and leave them there. The guardian of the Maze, the slug-like Glug, is waiting for them just past the entrance. The pirate freaks and runs away, trying to escape through the Maze as the Glug leisurely chases after him. Leif, Barda, and Jasmine begin to find their own way out, and Leif stumbles upon the hiding place of the next gem by sheer luck. Unfortunately, their movement attracts the attention of the Glug, who had been feasting on the mutinous pirate, and Jasmine and Barda lure the slug-beast away from Leif as he tries to dig the jewel out of the wall. The walls of the Maze are made by a kind of glue-like-slime that hardens into an imitation stone. Leif is able to use a dagger to cut through it to reach the amethyst, and in doing so uncovers of breath of ocean air. He digs away enough of the wall to be able to crawl and calls to Jasmine and Barda who quickly follow him. They escape through a blow hole while the Glug patches the hole in its precious maze, and the force of the blow hole just happens to kill the pirates who had captured them.
The final jewel, the diamond, is hidden in the title location, The Valley of the Lost. Here they rescue Dain and stumble upon Tora, a magical city that doesn’t tolerate those of evil intent. Doom catches up to them at Tora, and the companions make him enter it to prove he isn’t an Ol. The magic temporarily drains Doom of his anger and hate, allowing Leif to get some of his mysterious back story out of him. Doom has no memory before his escape from the Shadow Lands, and took the name of the man who had nurtured him and brought him back to health at the base of Dread Mountain. Doom resents them for taking advantage of his weakness, but warns them not to enter the Valley. Naturally, the trio ignore his warning and press on, grudgingly agreeing to escort Neridah, a spoiled athlete Doom rescued from the Rithmere Games, halfway to her home. She overhears them talking about the diamond the guardian is protecting, and follows them into the valley to claim the diamond for herself. The Guardian is an armored man with four disgusting beasts named Pride, Envy, Hatred, and Gluttony. The Guardian promises to surrender the diamond to them if they play his game, but if they lose, they become one of the thousands of lost souls trapped in the mist encompassing the valley. Neridah refuses to play the game and leaves, but the trio know they can’t leave without the diamond and agree to play. The Guardian tells them that there are clues hidden all around his castle that will tell him his name, and the name is the password to the safe for the diamond. There is a looming deadline and the clues are hard to find, but then they discover the truth: the password to the safe is ENDON. Distraught by the discovery that the evil guardian is the once king of Deltora, the only thing that comforts the trio is the knowledge that Endon is alone and Sharn and the heir are still out there. They discover then that Neridah had stolen the diamond and escaped, and in the Guardian’s anger, his beasts turn on him and start eating him. Leif quickly severs the cord connecting the beasts to the Guardian, and the spell over the valley begins to break. The trio hurry to find Neridah, who had tripped at the banks of a river at the edge of the valley and smashed her skull in, and retrieve the diamond. When they return, they discover that all the trapped souls had been returned to this plane, and that the guardian had been returned to his original state as an old hermit. He confesses that his real name was Fardeep, not Endon, and the majority of the souls trapped in the valley were the people of Tora, who had been cursed after not helping Endon as they had promised. The Torrans weave a spell to shroud the valley in mist again, and Doom and Dain join the trio as they begin to make plans to find Endon’s heir, return to Del, and defeat the Shadow Lord.
I won’t include the last book, Return to Del, in this review because there are so many spoilers bound in its pages. There are so many turns and twists as you find out who Doom is, who Jasmine is, what happened to Leif’s parents, and where Endon’s heir is hiding.
I love these books. Beside their traditional quest format, they are filled with tricks, puzzles, and riddles, encouraging the reader to think and try to figure out the clues before and along with the characters. If you can figure out the plot twist at the end of the book before it is revealed, let me know, because the first time I read this book, my mind was blown. Despite its seemingly simple nature, it really does encourage you to think more than other books. You should definitely check it out.
Author: Emily Rodda
Recommended Reading Age: 8 – 14
Favorite Character: Doom. He’s the character who you’re never sure what side he’s on. He claims to be the leader of the rebellion against the Shadow Lord, but his allegiances are continuously questioned as clues show up through the companion’s travels as to Doom’s true identity.
Favorite Scene: When the companions return to Del. The entire finale of the series is mind-blowingly epic. First time I read it, I had to sit back and just process everything that had just happened.
Favorite Quote: “Who am I? All is darkness. But I will not despair. Three things I know: I know I am a man. I know where I have been. I know what I must do. For now, that is enough.” (417)
Rodda, Emily. Deltora Quest. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2008.