In Penate’s YA novel, 13 strangers embark on a journey to connect with a parallel universe where they hope to harness the power of time travel.
When the group first meets at a classified location deep in the Brazilian jungle, each person carries a skeleton key from one of 12 ancient families. In these early sections, Penate’s voice is simple and direct, as if the author is telling the story around the campfire. The designees are stingy with their back stories, but even as they wait for the group to fully assemble, seeds of conflict are planted. Sergei and Jeremy soon wrestle for the leadership role, while Marian isn’t sure she can trust Rafiki after he lies about his name. Although the tension develops unevenly as the story goes on—a unanimous voting system solves most of their conflicts—readers are rewarded when the characters pool their talents to solve riddles. The action clips along at a rapid pace once the group leaves base camp, as their quest divides into smaller tasks spread out among locations from China to Spain. In each challenge, the teammates manipulate magical objects such as golden plates, medallions and boxes to either advance to the next step or, if they fail, to start again—a format that’s as satisfying as completing levels of a video game. Some items hold special powers, like a spyglass that illuminates the dark; others are inscribed with riddles for the group to solve or can be used to barter with people they encounter along the way. The appeal of the objects isn’t in their value, but in the ways they test the characters, who reveal a captivating array of supernatural abilities as they tackle each task. Hassan, for example, uses his telekinetic powers to direct an unstable arrow to its target; Minnie, who can blend into her surroundings like a chameleon, carries a laundry bag full of treasure past armed guards without being seen. Just when the journey’s end is in sight, the group dynamics take a turn for the worse, and the teammates question the person holding the 13th key; what they learn opens the door for a sequel.
A fun, fast-paced adventure with surprises around every turn.