The first sentence grabs readers right away: “On May 23, exactly one month before Gustavia and Leomaris Brennan’s eleventh birthday, their mother became terribly, mysteriously ill.”
The promise of the sentence is fulfilled as Gus, Leo and their selectively mute little sister, Ila, discover and battle the source of their mother’s illness, simultaneously learning of their own magical powers. Filtered primarily through Gus’ point of view, the third-person narration is full of action, with cliffhangers ending most chapters. In a nice feminist touch, Gus is the active twin; Leo, the bookworm. The children are whisked away from their parents to help the Móraí—their ancient, powerful uber–great-grandmother—defeat a monster who has already wreaked great havoc on the Atlantic coast. Plot, characters, Celtic folklore and many magical elements—especially surrounding the servant called “the Bedell”—are reminiscent of works by P.L. Travers and Susan Cooper. Divergence from these classics lies in the supernatural abilities of the children (and the Bedell) to become other animals and to use this power in their quest. The strongest, most believable scenes in this cinematic book take readers firmly into the realm of the fantastic, with their vivid descriptions of such wonders as a living, breathing book and swimming and communicating as seals. In contrast, some of the realistic scenes are awkward and clichéd. Appropriately interspersed scientific facts are an added plus.
A mostly strong magical adventure in the grand tradition. (Fantasy. 8-11)