Five siblings fall into another world in this old-fashioned fantasy novel.
Tumbling through the titular portal, 13-year-old twins Max and Susan, 11-year-old Nell, 8-year-old Kate, and youngest sister Jean—all white—land where magic is possible and people are malleable. In the city of Ganbihar, the residents appear to be devolving, affected by the “change” and sway to the mob magic of the Genius. Sought for their superior appearance, the five flee captivity, begin developing magical powers, survive an arduous trek, and find refuge beyond the maddening mist with the scholars in the sanctuary. But the siblings are soon besieged by the mad Genius, bitter scholars, monstrous slashers, and sibling spats. The third-person narration alternates through their perspectives, recounting their travels and travails in distinctive voices—with interspersed glimpses of “the exile” offering increasingly incoherent if prettily poetic observations—but such rich characters and detailed scenic descriptions cannot overcome slow pacing and vague worldbuilding. Gewirtz’s nostalgic haziness and unsubtle moralizing recall but do not rival the works of C.S. Lewis and E. Nesbit, and moments of gruesome violence and cruelty clash with the otherwise idyllic tale.
Yet another tale of the “chosen ones” arriving in a realm of devolved people and lost knowledge to destroy the evil rulers, defy discrimination, and restore magic to a withering land. (Fantasy. 9-12)