Review by Ian Keogh
Adora lives an idyllic and privileged life in a fantasy land, loved by all who are charmed by her kind heart, even the prisoners in the dungeon with whom she spends time. However, at night her dreams are tormented, and it’s eventually concluded that the Distance is coming for her. No-one knows exactly what it is, or the shape it takes, yet it’s apparently inescapable.
Ariela Kristantina’s evocation of a fairy tale city is a place anyone would want to live, which makes Adora’s decision to leave all the harder. She’s given travelling companions, a sword to protect her, and heads out somewhere remote in order that her city is not destroyed.
There’s an arbitrariness to the way Marc Bernardin begins Adora and the Distance, and he never escapes that trap. There are visual splendours along the way, giving Kristantina opportunities to shine, but the interludes as Adora and her companions journey through unknown locations to an unknown point are stock fantasy stopping points. There’s the haunted forest, the pirate ship and the land of the dead, Adora never spending enough time any of them to give them depth. There’s eventually a reason for the simple nature of the cast and locations, but it takes ninety pages to discover it.
All the way through there’s the feeling that Bernardin is writing something metaphorical, but with Adora only nine, the obvious choice of puberty can be discounted. He is working toward a definitive statement, though, and there is an extraordinary pay-off over the last five pages, explained as intensely personal in Bernardin’s afterword. The clever ending is given a further impressive touch by readers realising something unknown to the person speaking the final lines of dialogue. It makes it an even greater pity that what preceded the ending is in fantasy terms so commonplace.