Some wayward youths unexpectedly find themselves in a world of giant creatures and cannibalistic hunters in this sci-fi–infused novel.
Robbing banks with his uncle could have earned Tanner Kurtz a sentence at a youth detention facility. But he opted to stay at the Halton House, a farm that offers juvenile delinquents a second chance. Returning from a basketball game one evening, Halton House “father” Mr. Conroy has to turn the van around after a landslide effectively closes the highway. The group braves the pothole-laden Windigo Road but unfortunately winds up in an accident. Tanner and others, like hotheaded Colby, assess the aftermath: one person seriously injured; another missing. But their surroundings are considerably more disturbing, with the crew immediately seeing three unfamiliar ringed planets in the sky. There’s a threat of massive, hostile birds and no cell reception, but it’s not all bad: Tanner, et al. come across unicorns and are taken in by a seemingly friendly tribe, the Sawnay. The tribe, which willingly crossed from Earth into the World of Dawn via a portal years ago, is willing to help the newcomers get home. The not-as-cordial Wendo, however, are cannibals that may be more lethal than the beasts. Gale’s (The Stories That Make Us, 2015) book is a striking series opener that quickly introduces its titular world while slyly adding engaging elements. Characters, for one, are gradually drawn out, especially Tanner: snippets of his woeful past (as flashes of memory) form a rounded protagonist whose mother died chasing storms and whose father abandoned him. The narrative’s often playfully ambiguous; details about the World of Dawn (the Sawnay call it “Earth’s mother”) make the realm no less mysterious. The Sawnay, meanwhile, are humanized by a dilemma of their own: their slowly dying river, Cootamain, is making people sick. Lingering questions tease a sequel, not the least of which involves the Wendo’s baffling One Who Sees All, who, for some reason, wants Tanner.
A riveting tale and invigorating characters should have readers locked into this adventure series.