After her archaeologist uncle and his associate are slain by mystery fiends, Boston teenager Norah goes on the run; she is both hunted and protected by more-than-human warriors in this young adult novel.
The best conceit of author Clark’s fair opening to a planned YA fantasy series sort of lurks in the background scenery and takes a while to catch the viewer’s attention: Imagine a modern world in which fantasylands such as Atlantis and Hyperborea (Conan the Barbarian’s realm) were accepted historical facts. Thus, in the present day, intrigue surrounds their lost relics and lingering power. Except Clark focuses on her own mythic MacGuffin, an Icelandic civilization from 280 million years ago called Cobbogoth. There, the natives possessed mystic-crystal technology and enhanced cell structures giving them long lives and superpowers, and a sort of werewolf-bat-demon species called Dogril lurked. Norah Luken, 17, is a chosen-one type living in modern-day New England. Her uncle Jack, an archaeologist, explored the Cobbogothian ruins, even making scientific history by unearthing a Dogril skeleton. When Jack is brutally slain and his closest colleague ends up likewise, stunned Norah becomes the cops’ prime suspect. With her photographic memory and fragments of knowledge that Jack had, in fact, met with real, live Cobbogothians and found the great subterranean Cobbogoth city, Norah careens from one mysterious guardian-type to another (“I’m one of the last three qualdrine-wielding Naridi,” explains one Nordic hunk). The action (some of which causes pretty ghastly wounds, but the good guys invariably bounce back via crystal EMT) gets further and further from the mundane, human world and into the Cobbogothian one; amid all the nomenclature, shape-shifting characters and teleportation into TARDIS-like environments (ones that are bigger on the inside than the outside), Norah has a tough time telling up from down and friend from foe. Readers may be equally confused, though appreciable thought has gone into the author’s dense system of “elementalist” magic and pantheon of gods and demigods, more so than the typical dragons/Vikings stew. Stylized illustrations and marginalia are handsome touches, resembling the art of illuminated manuscripts more so than comic-book literal renderings.
While the fantasy worldbuilding often goes heavy on magical argot, this series kickoff makes a decent foundation for forthcoming mystic crystal revelations.