Goodell and Bright’s debut middle-grade novel maps the enchanting land of Bespri, a parallel world brimming with magic, richly portrayed characters and impending danger.
Despite living comfortably with his guardian, Ben grows restless in his adolescence; he wants information about his presumably dead parents. His guardian, the Professor, refuses to answer any questions about them, and Ben finds even less information elsewhere. Goodell and Bright create a likable character in Ben, capturing well a teenage boy’s contradictory emotional turmoil. When he first sees an eerie apparition of a woman who strongly resembles his mother, he reasons “that his subconscious was creating hallucinations to push him into learning the truth.” The ghost appears again and stabs Ben with a dagger that leaves no physical mark, and he impulsively pursues the spirit “to find that ghost—or whatever she was—and find out what was going on.” Instead of the apparition, he encounters Mizli, a beautiful girl his age, who came to rescue him from the very woman he was chasing. It turns out the woman is not a spirit but a Feyren warrior, serving a calculating, charismatic emperor who has ordered Ben’s capture. Mizli’s escape plans are foiled, and Ben is captured. Mizli then rushes home for reinforcements, using a technique called “longstepping.” Such magical revelations not only create a mesmerizing fantasy world but are also interspersed to allow proper absorption from one enchantment before building to the next. Explanations of these revelations occasionally slows the momentum. Once Ben arrives at the emperor’s palace, it becomes apparent that Goodell and Bright have relied on the overused trope of the singular, outside savior with a minor twist: Ben has help from an unexpected corner. Fortunately, the story pulls back from this literary device enough to create a more satisfying and original ending.
A charming, imaginative book; perfect for preteen fans of fantasy.