A Battle with Memory: A Review of Sweeping Changes by Mara Lynn Johnstone


by Odin Halvorson


An old man wakes up one day with no memory of his life, and the unshakable feeling that he is not who he is supposed to be. Mara Lynn Johnstone’s fantasy novel Sweeping Changes opens with this sense of mystery. Self-published through her own Reality Collision Publishing imprint, Johnstone’s excellent novel rises above the stigma often attached to self-published books.

Sweeping Changes takes place in Wayralia which recently transitioned from a monarchy to a democratic state. While Wayralia is at the brink of war with aggressive and powerful neighboring countries, an epidemic of memory loss sweeps the nation turning half the country’s leadership senile. Hope seems to rest on the shoulders of one old man, Hess, whose physical prowess and other abilities set him apart from his fellow citizens. Hess is a seemingly simple street sweeper who also experiences this sudden amnesia. As he frantically searches for clues to his identity, aided by his talking and snarky reflection, he inadvertently uncovers plots that could place Wayralia beneath a dark and oppressive regime. The main action revolves around Hess as he struggles to recover his memory and expose the threat to Wayralia.

At times the action in the novel unfolds too quickly, driven largely by the protagonist’s incredible displays of prowess. Relying on a hero who is so obviously competent is a risky choice as the reader might become frustrated with how easily the protagonist deals with trials and tribulations. However, Johnstone’s protagonist manages to be endearing in a way that shifts attention away from his extraordinary abilities, and as the mystery of those abilities unfolds, his entire role in the story transforms in such a way that his abilities become grounded within the internal laws of the book’s universe.

Also, there are points where Johnstone favors action in place of scenic description, choosing to move the plot forward in the most expedient manner possible, often at the cost of building the setting. However, the novel’s steady plot is seeded with consistent tidbits about the larger surrounding world, just enough so that the reader can render a crisp image of the landscape for themselves. 

Ultimately, Sweeping Changes creates a sense of modern fairy tale magic. Like all fairytales, dark themes are explored, yet themes of home and goodness are ever-present, especially as embodied by Hess. The old street sweeper is mysterious, but his internal psyche is one of moral fortitude and his intellect is plied solely in the service of the greatest good. As the mystery surrounding him is slowly unveiled, his role as a force for good is always present and powerful. I found myself rooting for Hess in a way that was at once surprising and familiar. Sweeping Changes enlivens and enlightens the reader’s inner child, and yet themes of identity loss appeal to the reader’s more mature sensibilities.

Sweeping Changes is a fast-paced wonder of a fantasy novel that builds an original and intriguing world. I can only hope Mara Lynn Johnstone will return to the world of Wayralia, and one day even bring it to a wider audience.