In this YA fantasy debut, a quartet of heroes confronts an evil that has pitted two kingdoms against each other.
In the kingdom of Hestia, 15-year-old Alton Krishnac works as a farmhand for the cruel Reswan family. He and Tristan, his 10-year-old brother, used to live in the Cursed Forest until a fire killed their parents. Alton watches King Ardesribe’s men return the body of the Reswans’ son, James, from fighting in Rothilion. Hestia battles a centuries-old enemy in the Aydar, a race of magic wielders who live in the north. More horrifying, James’ corpse bears the brand of the Dragon Girl, an elusive witch whom King Ardesribe blames for everything from earthquakes to the potato blight. He sends his daughter, Princess Elspeth, to the Reswan farm with a command for Alton and Tristan to set a trap for the Dragon Girl. Despite his nation’s hatred of the Aydar, Alton believes some of them must be good. His mother had been friends with an Aydarian named Sal-Beth, and he now cherishes an iridescent stone she left to him. When the boys find a magically defended cave in the forest, will they begin unraveling the world’s secrets or merely become two more victims in a war spanning generations? Though Leisa Maxwell and Elora Maxwell’s debut features numerous time-tested fantasy elements—talking animals; a shadowy, immortal evil; copious traveling—these tropes retain a winsome fervor that’ll delight readers new to the genre. A keen sense of drama introduces a cloaked figure as Lana Dorsen, aka Dragon Girl. Likewise, the story’s true villain, once revealed, is “a predator blooded with a power so terrifying” that the heroes feel “it pulsing against their skin.” Central to the narrative is the bond that forms between Alton and Lana, two orphans whose tragic pasts never extinguish their spirits. The final third provides a murderous kick, and though it’s reversed in the end, it proves that the authors are willing to play rough with their creations. The novel’s final line sweetly echoes its first.
Packed with tropes exuberantly executed.