"An epic fantasy notable for its deceptions, elaborate traps, and worldbuilding."– Kirkus Reviews
In this YA debut, siblings return to a fantasy realm to find fresh conflict brewing.
Since his parents’ divorce two years ago, 14-year-old John Jenson has lived with his father in Hunter’s Run, Maine. He dearly misses his 13-year-old sister, Violet, and can’t wait for her upcoming visit. While in school, however, he learns that she’s gone missing en route. The police find her backpack by a river in the woods near the bus station. Unlike his father and Officer Wilkins, though, John doesn’t suspect the worst. He believes that Violet can swim in river rapids because she did so two years ago in the Valley, a realm of magic and talking animals where he and she fought the foul Soldiers of Sorrow. In his memories, though, John isn’t completely sure that the Valley wasn’t just a hallucination that he and his sister shared. Then, as he investigates, a creepy old man points him to a rowboat on the river. When John hesitates, a tropical bird on the stranger’s shoulder says, “Just get in the darn boat and save us all a headache.” Meanwhile, Violet and her small white dog, Hodgey, wake up in the Valley’s Gateway Glade. They meet a deer named Ripple who informs Violet that a rebellion has broken out, and the Soldiers of Sorrow have returned. Selbrede merges idyllic fantasy trappings, such as the deer chief Boulder’s cave garden, and elements similar to those in comic books like Fables. He splits the chapters between John’s and Violet’s viewpoints, and within these chapters, he offers many glimpses into the siblings’ first visit to the Valley. The prose revels in teenage snarkiness and humor, as when John thinks, “I had been told about avoiding strangers, especially ones climbing trees in bathrobes.” As the narrative progresses, magical artifacts come into play, including the Ivory-Bound Book, which can reveal “the darkest secrets about oneself.” Tension comes from not knowing which human or animal characters might be possessed by the Soldiers of Sorrow, who embody traits such as jealousy, hate, and despair.
A lengthy first installment that sets up darker perils to come.
In this sequel to The Valley Chronicles (2017), Selbrede’s heroes risk a prophesized death in order to procure a weapon that can end all war.
Several months have passed since teens John and Violet Jenson saved the magical realm of the Valley. Violet hopes to put their previous traumatic adventures behind them; John, however, has been using runes, in a manner taught to him by Princess Ruby, to teleport back and forth to the kingdom of talking animals and the vanquished Soldiers of Sorrow. He convinces his sister to return—along with her dog, Hodgey, who can now talk—for a meeting with the Inner Council to decide how best to rule the Valley. The conference introduces the siblings to the smarmy Councilman Hewyd, who believes that Princesses Ruby and Sapphire need guidance. John, who’s now able to detect the Soldiers’ magic, thinks that Hewyd may be possessed. Suddenly, the meeting is interrupted by a battered and bloody Trent, an ally believed lost during the war against the Soldiers. Fearing a resurgence of hostilities, Ruby sends John and a select band of heroes after an artifact capable of bringing the war to a close; whatever the object is, it’s kept beyond the Mountains of Mystery. For this second volume in his series, Selbrede doubles down on the quirkiness and fantasy tropes, which include an apocalyptic prophecy that the world will end if anyone from the Valley passes the Mountains. Pushing against the fourth wall, Violet thinks, “that was exactly what our fantasy adventure needed—a vague and unhelpful set of deadlines and rules.” Chapters told from Hodgey’s viewpoint are intriguing, as well, particularly when the other animals see him as one their own. Frequently, however, characters who aren’t from Earth often use the colloquial, sarcastic language of the protagonists; for instance, clever Princess Sapphire says things such as “I don't think brute force is going to cut it.” Luckily, Selbrede’s gifted plotting still takes things in numerous, satisfying directions. A devastating epilogue will make the next volume a must for fans.
An epic fantasy notable for its deceptions, elaborate traps, and worldbuilding.