In this debut YA fantasy, a teen discovers he’s connected to a hidden enclave of undead outcasts.
Sixteen-year-old Daniel Thatcher lives with his grandmother in Trestle, Oregon. Initially raised by drug-addicted parents, he hasn’t had the easiest life, and today he leaves the grocery store where he works to find one of his truck tires flat. As he repairs it, his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, Sarah, approaches, hoping to defend herself against accusations of cheating. She claims that she didn’t make out with another boy and that their classmate Candace wants to break them up. Unsympathetic, Daniel fixes his car and races home for a double-date with his friend Tony, Candace, and another girl named Claire. But Daniel arrives too late. Tony has taken Daniel’s cousin, Eric, with him instead. The next day, Daniel finds a note from Tony that says, “I need to get out of this stupid town and find myself.” On the back of the message are directions to the secluded, woodsy location where the date occurred. The situation grows stranger when Eric reveals to Daniel that the girls aren’t quite human and they killed Tony. Daniel, however, remains their primary target. In this work, Muller engages in some vigorous worldbuilding. Her hero eventually breaches the concealed world of Narivous, after befriending the gorgeous Fantasia. She’s one of the Velores, who have died only to be reborn with otherworldly appearances and powers (like healing, illusion casting, and manipulating ice). Fantasia tells Daniel that because of his brilliant yellow aura, he’s welcome in Narivous. But the realm’s ruler, Thorn, is a tyrant and allows nobody to leave. The best part of Muller’s narrative is her atmospheric prose, conveying the Pacific Northwest’s spookiness in descriptions like “It was odd how quickly daylight vanished. Limbs and trees blocked the sky, draping the forest in darkness.” Yet the story, which features a solid romance, introduces a large contingent of intriguing characters who have little to do. Thorn is a grand villainess in the Disney stepmother mold. Fantasia warns Daniel: “No one ever goes against Thorn. To do so is considered treason and is punishable by death.” But any dramatic payoff will have to wait for the next installment.
This capable novel about a wondrous, secret world largely focuses on setting up its sequel.