Schoenfeld’s fantasy leads teenage twins on a magic-filled adventure.
On their 13th birthday, twins Oliver and Harriet can’t wait to visit their grandmother’s house for the first time. They know her as their loving, eccentric “Gam,” but they have no idea she’s about to transport them to another realm and share some shocking news: Their father, Rikard, once ruled over a magical land, and they are the inheritors of his power. They will have to train hard, she tells them, and battle Rikard’s evil twin, Thornas, who killed him and filled the castle and surrounding forest with dark magic. Before any training can take place, however, the kids get into an adventure of their own, along with their new friends, twins Devon and Dell. Schoenfeld’s debut takes the foursome into the Dark Forest and into (and then out of, and then into again) Thornas’s clutches. Along the way, they meet Yago, an utterly non-Tolkienian hobbit who keeps a loyal, bungling orc as a servant and sometimes talks like Yoda and sometimes doesn’t. There’s plenty of action and detailed worldbuilding, which middle-grade readers will likely lap up. But the descriptions lack punch, and the exposition is often repetitive. The early chapters go into detail about the kids’ personalities and appearances, which have no bearing on later chapters. Oliver, at 13, is 5 feet 11 inches tall and 190 pounds, yet he is later described as hoping for a growth spurt. (A good proofreading would be in order, too, to avoid frequent bloopers, like “Patients you must have.”) Beyond this and other minor internal inconsistencies, some major ones rankle. Notably, the kids are explicitly said to be “spending the summer at Gam’s,” yet after an adventure that lasts several days, they wave good-bye, already looking forward to next summer. Most disappointing, however, is that Oliver and Harriet aren’t allowed to be the heroes of their own story. That role falls to Yago and a passel of potions, while most of the action happens to the main characters. There’s plenty of unfinished business, of course, when the story ends, so perhaps in the expected sequels the kids will get some of that training Gam promised and finally get to grow into the heroes young readers long to see.
This formulaic fantasy packs plenty of adventure but not much memorable personality.