A teenage orphan living in misery suddenly discovers his magical gifts while being thrust into an epic battle between good and evil…sound familiar?
In lonely Crosscaper Orphanage, the westernmost building in Ireland, 13-year-old Denizen Hardwick retreats into a world of fantasy books, believing that he is thoroughly unremarkable. Summoned by a mysterious aunt, the white lad quickly discovers an ancient war being waged by Knights against nefarious shadow creatures from another world, a war humans must not know exists. Denizen is given a choice: join his aunt’s order of Knights or return to life at the orphanage. The seams of the timeless ordinary-turned-extraordinary–schoolboy narrative poke through in Rudden’s debut, which alternates perspectives between chosen-one Denizen and his best friend, trapped in the orphanage as the shadow creatures lay siege. The best fantasy gradually constructs the rules of its magical world for the protagonists, but Rudden’s readers barely have time to bond with “ordinary” Denizen before he is off on adventures. As a result, he and the Knights never achieve the three-dimensionality necessary for readers to emotionally invest. While the book’s use of magic, which takes a physical toll on the body of the wielder, is one of its finer elements, ungainly metaphors occasionally distract from the narrative.
The intriguing premise is undercut by hasty worldbuilding but shows promise nonetheless; perhaps the kinks will be worked out in Volume 2. (Fantasy. 10-15)