In this YA fantasy adventure, a young Russian girl falls through a portal into a realm filled with mythical creatures.
While daydreaming on her walk home one day, 10-year-old Natalia gets lost and must find shelter in a cave, where she discovers a mysterious shimmering portal that pulls her through into another world. She soon meets a boy named Catalyst: “It means the beginning of trouble,” he explains. He is half human, and his mother, Anastasia, is a Krusnik (in Croatian folklore, a kind of vampire hunter). Brought before the king and queen to explain herself, Natalia learns that the portal’s locking crystals are missing. As a human, she is under suspicion. To prove her innocence—and to prevent a war—she must use a special key to find and return the crystals, with Catalyst’s help. On their quest, Natalia and Catalyst fight off monsters like the Cockatrice, a vile old elf and his pet Blemmye (a headless monster with eyes and mouth on its chest), getting some help along the way. In his debut novel, the first in a planned series, Blue mixes elements from several traditions, including Basque, Croatian, Greek and Aztec. He often conjures up a good fairy tale–like rhythm to his story: “So stay close and keep up and don’t look back, because you will get lost in the blink of an eye,” says Catalyst. Blue has a J.K. Rowling–esque originality and playfulness in naming creatures: Gobstank, Krimpet, Horrabbull and Riverfray. He leans too hard on some of his story elements, such as enemies continually tracking Natalia through her perfume (do most 10-year-old girls wear heavy perfume?). A few plot holes are puzzling; for example, if the queen can read thoughts, can’t she tell Natalia is innocent? The pace also feels significantly off since readers don’t know until the end that the full quest won’t be completed in this volume.
An enjoyable YA adventure, despite flaws, with a brave and resourceful heroine.