A troubled teen escapes the chaos of her foster home for another realm in this YA fantasy.
Seventeen-year-old Kori Castleman is on Christmas break from school. She’s the foster child of Matthew and Tabitha Price, who own a ranch in rural Colorado. Kori loathes her foster mother, who drinks heavily and physically abuses her. One day, the teen has another terrible argument with an inebriated Tabitha, who tries to cut Kori’s hair with scissors. A wrestling match ensues, and Kori punches the woman out cold. The teen’s revenge is sweeter, however, when the Drug Enforcement Administration finds out that the Prices have been growing marijuana illegally on their property. However, Kori hadn’t reckoned with the involvement of local drug cartels. When violent men come to collect cash that Matthew owes them, the ranch becomes the site of a gun battle. After killing a man to save her own life, Kori flees on an all-terrain vehicle. In the night sky, she sees a strange light; suddenly, a “flashing door” hangs in the air, and she goes through it. Kori awakens surrounded by sand on a planet with two suns. Her wandering leads her to a “pygmy mammoth” whom she names “Chewie.” Eventually, dust clouds appear in the distance—evidence of a wild horse roundup by Prince K’tar of Kaldura. His people, led by Queen Arliss, aren’t surprised by Kori’s appearance. Indeed, they call her “Daughter of the Sky”—and they have plans for her.
Sexton uses the fantasy device of a portal between worlds not to complicate Kori’s life, but to simplify it. The teen manages to stay grounded in her new surroundings by playing pop songs that she’d downloaded to her phone. Yet the connections to her former life as an abused teen keep her adrift and uncertain in K’tar’s society. When a Seer presents Kori with tales of a startling, violent future, the author seems to offer her protagonist a straightforward road to heroism. But then a stranger named Kazmer tosses this aside, telling Kori that Seers are false, and that chasing her predicted fate will inevitably lead to her death. Sexton then has Kori find her own way by training with an elder named Taluth to become a Rider, bonded to a telepathic Spirit Horse. He asks her, “Why live a life where you know all the answers?” The story shows how embracing uncertainty and thriving in the moment help Kori navigate her emotions. However, hanging over these proceedings is the potential for her to return through a doorway to a familiar but miserable home. The worldbuilding in this novel is rather slight, although the Spirit Horses Sorliss and Rhonan will help scratch readers’ fantasy itch. Comedy relief comes during culture-clash moments, as when Kori speaks slang to the horses (“You’re shading, brah”). The finale, which is as jubilant as the opening scenes are grim, sets up further adventures in potential sequels.
A character-based fantasy tale that’s more concerned with questions of the heart than scenes of action.