In this debut YA novel, an African-American teenager gets the opportunity to attend a school that trains her for an age-old battle between the forces of Order and the Trickster gods.
When a mysterious stranger named Alex arrives at Jamie’s door, promoting the Kootenai Academy for the Specialist of Special Children, the teen instinctively understands that he’s a man of many faces. (The theme of masks goes on to reverberate throughout the novel.) It turns out that Jamie is one of Trickster Spider’s Chosen, and Alex aims to train her for upcoming fights against evil forces. Alex offers Jamie lessons that combine exercise and philosophy, particularly addressing questions of good and evil. Jamie and her fellow Chosen students— Russ, Joe, María, and Nettle—all seem to agree with Alex’s statement that “We can all think of a good reason to kill someone.” They’re all given necklaces that channel the powers of Uazit—a being who may be the aforementioned Trickster Spider, although the narrative always sidesteps a clear explanation. Hansen syncopates scenes of their time in school with scenes of their “Traveling,” during which they use their powers to teleport to an unnamed location, where they often battle enemies. These confrontations are brutal and bloody, and Jamie soon becomes enamored of violence. She also becomes captivated by her fellow student Nettle and struggles to accept her attraction to her. During this time, Jamie also develops the power of “seeing” into different realms, which manifests itself in strange, complex dreams, and a power that she calls the “second between seconds”—an ability to stop time. In this first installment in a series, Hansen effectively melds a coming-of-age tale—complete with no-one-understands-me teenage angst and confusion over sexuality—with brutal sword-and-sorcery fantasy. Throughout the story, the author offers excellent pacing, creating an engaging amalgam of violence, metaphysics, and characterization while also deftly generating reader enthusiasm for the next book in the series.
This appealing, well-paced fantasy tale offers a deep dive into what makes its main character tick.