In this YA fantasy debut, dark forces target a young man after learning he has roots in a magical community.
Eleven-year-old Luke Rayburn from Houston, Texas, is the oldest of five children. When his father loses his job at the tire plant, life becomes a bit uncertain. Luke usually finds solace under his favorite oak tree in the lot across the street. But one night, a sinister man named Saul appears out of the darkness to inform Luke that his fate is tied to an ancient, powerful book and, by extension, the world. Afterward, his life only gets stranger when benevolent tree dryads and black-eyed pursuers (called darkmen) appear. Thankfully, Luke’s grandparents are able to whisk the family away—via a magical tunnel—to a secret town called Countryside. There, all beings legendary and wonderful live peacefully (including angels and centaurs), and Luke receives special schooling in the manipulation of light. Yet he must still beware the forces of evil that desire the ancient book (wherever it may be hidden), because someone in Countryside is helping darkmen—and worse enemies—sneak past the community’s magical barriers. There’s also a red twinkle on the northern horizon foreshadowing the world’s destruction. Debut author Cope brings the loveliness of small-town America to his narrative through upstanding characters (children use sir and ma’am when addressing adults) and idyllic settings; in a gardened alley, for example, “Pinpricks of blue light floated through the air...visible against a canopy of ivy, and birds the size of plums flitted back and forth.” It’s easy for Luke—and readers—to slip into this cozy realm that’s laced with magic and presided over by confident adults, like Uncle Landon and estate manager Quentin Acharon. These elements make for a rather sedate narrative, however. Football games and cute girls on horseback keep the story in first gear until the shadowy villains slither into view. While the diverse plot threads weave together colorfully, the result feels more like a mystery that’s setting up the fantasy to come.
Solid introduction to a potentially vast magical world.