A YA novel sees a teenage girl find love and conflict in a fantasy realm.
In 1936, 13-year-old Lily Channon spends the summer at her grandparents’ stately home. Lily delights in her fun-loving grandfather and his fantastic stories of dragons and adventure. The only constraint is that she’s not allowed to leave the estate grounds; in particular, she must not go into the woods beyond the gate. But the woods call to her. She sneaks out and finds a boy there; he knows about her hidden birthmark and calls her “the one.” Four years pass after that joyous summer. Lily’s grandfather is dead, and she and her mother move onto the estate along with the new manager and his son, Henry. Henry is 10 years older than Lily but very attractive. The two fall in love and are to be married. But Lily goes to the woods once more and is drawn into Arcadia, a magical world once ruled by her grandfather. Arcadia is in thrall to the tyrant Reficul, and although it has been prophesied that Lily—now that she has turned 18—will save the land, there are dangers and betrayals to overcome. She finds her heart split between Henry and Calev, the boy she met four years earlier. Whom will she choose? How much will she sacrifice to uphold her grandfather’s legacy? McCain (Smoke Signal, 2019, etc.) combines a modern YA quest fantasy with the more chaste romantic yearnings of yesteryear, the setting and contemporaneous time period evoking parts of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. At 18, Lily is older than the children who first enter Narnia; consequently, Arcadia feels less wondrous a place and the quest a little less epic. But the characters are memorable—tiny Shim, for example, and smoldering Levona, who live in Arcadia—and while the action is at times helter-skelter, this mirrors quite cleverly Lily’s breathless disorientation. Instead of lining up with narrative expectations, the story’s dramatic moments gain prominence (or fade perfunctorily) to match the mercurial imbalances of Lily’s ever shifting love triangle. The author’s prose, plot, and dialogue carry the familiar stylization of epic fantasy, yet it is romantics who will most approve.
An edgy mix of escapism and tortured longing with strong characters.