In this YA fantasy adventure, a girl’s visit to an art museum takes her into a magical land where she’s at the center of an ancient prophecy and mission.
Laney, a high schooler, is at the art museum doing research when she slips into a closed gallery to see an exhibition of surreal paintings by real-life artist (and the book’s illustrator) Michael Cheval. She begins to feel dizzy, the absurdist images spinning, when someone shouts “Get out!” Stumbling through the emergency exit, Laney finds herself lost in another world, a snowy forest. She eventually ends up in a cottage, where a woman greets her: “I am Shaka, the Guardian of Tarzetta Trail, the heir of the arrows, the dreamer of dreams.” Laney’s arrival has been prophesied, it seems; she is the foretold “Sorceress from the West.” Evil has come to Shaka’s land in the form of poisonous black fogs and marauding wolves. It’s Laney’s destiny to restore peace by journeying to a clearing in the West Woods in time for the syzygy, or solar eclipse, “the magical time when anything is possible!” Shaka accompanies Laney, giving her some magical gifts to help the quest. Along their journey, the party meets friends and foes, encountering dangers and setbacks. Laney also learns more about how the black fogs arose from “greed and folly” and how to harness her powers, facing tests in Shaka’s world—and her own. Apseloff (Michael Cheval’s Magic, 2019, etc.) offers a heroine who’s initially apathetic but is challenged by circumstances to find inner qualities of courage, determination, and faith in destiny. The odyssey is varied nicely by side adventures, such as escaping a deadly ravine and crossing an ice-bound river. Linking the fantasy quest to a frightening and all-too-plausible, real-world situation is a smart move, deepening the resolution. The author has a good ear for fantasy diction, which helps create an appropriate sense of otherness for Shaka’s land. The attractive, accomplished black-and-white illustrations are well integrated with the storytelling, with Cheval’s (Michael Cheval’s Magic, 2019, etc.) lovely crosshatching and draftsmanship lending reality to the surreal.
A fine example of the quest story, beautifully illustrated.