This sweet, exciting fantasy finds a lonely 15-year-old girl suddenly transported to a magical realm where she’s a princess with a dangerous mission.
Willow has been raised by her Nana, whom Willow thinks is her grandma but really is her nurse from the magical realm of Mistolear. When Nana dies, Willow touches a glowing crystal that whooshes her home, where she learns that she is literally a pawn in a life-and-death chess game played with real people who are frozen into chess pieces when captured. Nana taught Willow to be a good chess player, and she can see no way for her side to win the game. Worse, she learns that she must fight the evil magical overlord who is controlling events, but she doesn’t know any magic. Wood builds the standard fantasy medieval world, complete with towering, turreted castles, dark cobblestone streets and bright costumes with huge, trailing sleeves, and she’s also careful to include the overpowering garbage smells and starving peasants. She keeps the action moving, throwing in plenty of wry comedy, a classic hates-him-at-first-but-it’s-love romance and a couple of originally drawn sidekicks. If the adults come off as a bit stereotypical, the adolescent heroes make up for it with verve. The magic and the living chess game work well.
A successful kickoff to this new series. (Fantasy. 12 & up)