In this English-language version of a debut fantasy, a teenage orphan learns he has special abilities to combat the anonymous enemy trying to kill him in New Orleans.
Elisse tells people he suffers from nightmares, but that’s not exactly true. He’s spent most of his life hearing voices and seeing various creatures, uncertain if they’re real or imagined. When Elisse was an infant, his American father left him at a Tibetan monastery. At the age of 3, the boy and his monk tutor fled Tibet for India, where Elisse lost what little contact he had with his father. Years later, the teenager moves to the New Orleans Buddhist Center, hoping to track down his dad in the U.S. But Elisse’s visions intensify in America: Though the creatures have previously never harmed him, his latest encounter with a bone monster and other entities leaves him visibly bruised and scratched. Fortunately, he soon meets the Comus Bayou tribe, a group of wanderers: humans capable of changing into animals, such as wolves. They explain to Elisse that he’s also a wanderer and, specifically, a shadowgazer who can, among other things, traverse “the middle plane” of roaming spirits. The tribe hopes the teen’s new shadowgazer abilities can help decipher why recent hostile wanderers are, unlike others of their kind, not detectable by smell. But these wanderers’ newest attack makes it clear that they’re targeting Elisse. He and his new tribe set out to find the culprit who, for whatever reason, wants Elisse dead.
Palova’s novel brims with action and mystery, delivering a rock-solid foundation for a series. Supporting characters, for example, seem to be harboring secrets, from Buddhist Center volunteer Louisa to Detective Salvador Hoffman, who’s working a homicide case. There are likewise harrowing confrontations with evil creatures that not all tribe members survive. And as Elisse bonds with the tribe (most notably Tared Miller), which accepts him as family, some of the deaths prompt dramatically engaging moments. The author employs an unusual but effective method for varying perspectives. Between Elisse’s first-person viewpoints, an unknown narrator recounts events via second-person, as if speaking to certain characters, like Louisa (“You are not hungry, but eating is one of those things that usually calm your nerves”). This only adds to the story’s mystery, as the narrator (unrevealed until the end) witnesses the action firsthand but remains unseen. Anderson’s translation from the original Spanish text is generally superlative. At one point, Elisse muses: “I don’t know if it’s the beauty of its streets or the gloom of its culture and people, but the French Quarter that once terrified me, right now under the moon over Bourbon Street, feels truly magical.” But one instance of confusion is Hoffman’s inexplicably alternating titles; in addition to detective, the narrative refers to him, interchangeably, as officer and agent. Readers will likely anticipate a sequel, as the novel ends on a smashing cliffhanger. The book’s stellar cover and the few illustrations featured in the story are courtesy of the author, who’s also a skilled artist.
A grand introduction to a magical world and indelible characters.