The fourth wall suffers major breaches as young characters from a popular fantasy series and the "real real world" join forces to battle threats in both.
Born of a real mother and a fictional dad, Bethany has been searching for her father ever since he disappeared into a book on her fourth birthday. When classmate Owen sees her materializing out of a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, she unwillingly acquires a gobsmacked ally who persuades her to pick up a finding spell from the cliffhanger scene at the end of Volume 6 in his adored Kiel Gnomenfoot series. Owen tags along to do the unthinkable: change the plot by saving the Dumbledore-ish Magister from death at the hands of mad scientist and archvillain Dr. Verity. Crises snowball as Owen finds himself caught in a climactic battle between Magic and Science in the yet-to-be-published seventh volume. Meanwhile, Bethany is left on this side of the printed page to somehow prevent the Magister, enraged by the revelation that he's fictional, from freeing all made-up people and creatures and exiling their creators into a storybook to see how they like having no free will. Riley concocts a tasty mix of familiar tropes and truly inventive twists for his Gnomenfoot scenario plus a set of broadly rendered scene stealers for a supporting cast. For a plot, he dishes up a nonstop barrage of situational pickles for his increasingly desperate protagonists.
A droll and clever opener likely to leave readers breathless both with laughter and anticipation. (Fantasy. 10-12)