A teenager, his pet tiger, and his closest friends discover a magical new world in this YA fantasy adventure.
O’Flynn’s (Tell the Truth, 2015, etc.) novel, the first of a trilogy, introduces readers to Jim Wales, a member of a traveling circus troupe. Jim has rare powers that allow him to communicate telepathically with his pet tiger, Bak. When mysterious bandits attack the troupe’s caravan, Jim discovers that many things he thought he knew about his life were lies. It turns out that he isn’t from the “Modern World” at all but a parallel world known as Bellenor. What’s more, he’s one of Bellenor’s Scholars, who can manipulate energy using magic. His family and friends have worked to hide him from a villain, Eldred, who seeks to capture Bellenor’s magical power for himself. Guided by a mysterious falcon named Oona, Jim makes his way to the parallel world, accompanied by Bak; his girlfriend, Charlie; and his best friend, Sam. The friends find themselves in a dazzling medieval environment where they must outwit the evildoers pursuing them. Along the way, a band of small-statured creatures known as fagens robs them, which reroutes them to the Fairy World, where time moves at a dramatically different pace. When Jim and his friends finally arrive in Marren City, they confront a mystery involving Jim’s father, as a showdown with Eldred looms. O’Flynn’s novel brings an engaging, memorable world to life, full of intriguing mysteries and vividly realized settings. The main characters all stand out, though sometimes not for the right reasons. Jim, for example, seems disconcertingly blasé about the death of someone close to him until the novel’s climax. Charlie, meanwhile, comes across as a bit old-fashioned compared to strong, competent YA heroines of recent years; many of her scenes consist of her crying, fainting, or kissing. Still, the central trio is likable and engaging, and it’s refreshing to follow a group of heroes who haven’t quite matured into their powers.
A rollicking series opener that will leave readers eager for more despite its characters’ occasionally befuddling behavior.