In this debut middle-grade fantasy novel, a group of children are transported to another world, where they face dragon fire and huge buzzards with the help of new magical powers.
One day in fictional Annaberry, New York, a school bus full of kids drives through a mysterious blue light. Suddenly, it’s in the middle of a deserted field with no apparent signs of modern civilization. After the bus driver leaves, never to return, the 15 third-through-eighth graders are on their own in a land called Hevelen—a place that seems charming and menacing, by turns. There are luscious fruit trees to feast on, but paths through nearby woods seem to move around on their own, and ghosts emerge from the misty night who have the ability to freeze people stiff. The kids soon gain superpowers, which range from standard-issue comic-book fare (Gabi Miera can fly on her skateboard, Timmy Davin has bursts of exceptional speed; Emma Kadean can turn invisible, and Rhea Morgan can shoot flame from her hands) to more offbeat quirks (Annie Perel can momentarily stop time; Gabrielle’s sister, Cici, can create large pink bubbles; Ted Wallis can make music by waving his hands; and Josh Hester, the group’s natural leader, is invulnerable to others’ magic). The kids are attacked by rarewars—giant condors who try to fly them to the castle of Sidtarr, who wants to collect “gifted ones” like them and use their powers. The kids get help from the Panishie, a tribe of adorable, 6-inch-tall fairies, but they also have to dodge fireballs that emanate from the tower of a dragon master. Some of the kids head north to confront Sidtarr while others go south to find a renowned silver cat that might be able to protect them.
In this first series installment, Thomas Carroll constructs a colorful, Narnia-esque world full of intriguing sights and creatures. With 15 characters jockeying for attention, the novel sometimes feels a bit overcrowded; indeed, it’s not until the kids separate into smaller groups that their personalities have enough room to seem distinct. They each face conflicts and inner crises, owing in part to the fact that their delightful gifts often come with weaknesses, which necessitate agonizing trade-offs; for example, Bobby Forester can sense danger from far away, but it causes him excruciating abdominal cramps. These weaknesses teach the kids tough life lessons about self-sacrifice, risk-taking, trust, and reconciliation. The author’s action scenes are exciting but never traumatic or gory, and his limpid, engaging prose style manages to balance exotic spectacle with down-to-earth practicality: “Rhea frowned. She liked the walking trees, but the snow monkeys gave her the creeps. She had almost smacked one when it slid too close and leered at her with its unblinking eyes.” The result is a fun, engrossing yarn about empowered kids who impressively step up when grown-ups can’t help. The book also includes Jackie Carroll’s black-and-white illustrations of each character; Huang’s small, monochromatic illustrations at the top of each chapter; maps; and a glossary of the Panishie language.
A fast-paced, sparkling fantasy for tweens in which great wish fulfillment entails great responsibility.(maps, glossary)