In this fantasy debut, a gemologist discovers a hidden portal and finds that family secrets are the key to saving more than one world.
Lana Grayson is an expert on gemstones, and she knows all the lore surrounding their various powers. She works at her family’s jewelry shop, founded by her great-great-grandfather Elias Grayson. One night, Lana dreams about the nearby County Forest Park, and she wakes early the next day to the sound of a dog barking, which unnerves her because she’s never gotten along with canines. Hoping to rejuvenate and relax in the peaceful outdoors, she drives to County Forest Park; there, she explores an unfamiliar trail, where she finds a heavy, black rock that makes her hands numb when she touches it. She decides to take the rock home, but when she tries to start her car, the battery’s dead. She then decides to sleep in the park, but during the night, she’s startled by the sounds of voices and hunting horns. She believes that she’s in danger because the malachite comprising her bracelet breaks—a prediction of disaster. While escaping, she sees something she’s never seen before: a gnome, who introduces himself as Gliaphon and brings her to his Tree Home. This space—much larger inside than it appears outside—is in the realm of Shadow. It turns out that a malevolent woodspirit named Sheamathan rules this realm, and she’s determined to spread blight and enslave any who oppose her. In this series opener, Ling spins a character-driven yarn that sheds the gritty violence that’s prevalent in the fantasy genre but loses no complexity as a result. She creates an inviting sense of place with lines such as “The dusky gloom felt restful and soothing, as if the gently swaying boughs overhead were absorbing light and noise.” Numerous surprises speckle the narrative, such as the origin of Sheamathan’s mysterious wolfhound, the true power of Lana’s black rock, and the fate of Elias. The book also presents clear, important messages for younger readers, as when one character realizes that “doing a bad thing, even for a good reason, is still bad.” Ling’s cleverest concept is that gems’ powers are amplified in Shadow, which is put to great use here and also holds vast potential for subsequent volumes.
A bright fantasy for readers who are tired of exaggerated violence and slippery morals.