Xavier’s (Dark Curses, Faerie Dreams, 2017) YA fantasy features a girl who takes a trip across the universe.
Fourteen-year-old Neffie Anderson is self-conscious about being tall and having pink freckles on her cheeks. She’s also the only dark-skinned student at Millard Fillmore High in Windmere, Iowa. She wants to fit in, so she hikes a dangerous hillside one weekday morning with popular girl Jessica’s clique. After Neffie looks over a steep ledge, her longtime seizure condition—which she’s convinced is epilepsy—triggers, and she temporarily passes out. That night, a man named Gannen Sargie Vong, who also has pink freckles, visits the Anderson home; he’s Neffie’s paternal grandfather. He takes her onto the roof, which sets off her condition again, and he tells her, “The reddest star will show you the way.” The next day in school, Jessica tells Neffie that they were once best friends, but Neffie has no recollection of this. They head to an upstairs room to help Neffie remember. This time, as Neffie succumbs to strange visions, Jessica holds her tightly, and they both travel to a place with a “pumpkin colored” sky and a reddish sun. This is the “Fastness”—an entirely different universe. Neffie, it turns out, is known as Lady Neffatira here, and she belongs to a blood-clan known as the Sargies who duel with other clans for possession of people. Xavier’s latest novel is a fantasy that explores aspects of bigotry in intriguing ways. For example, people with green eyes, such as fellow human Kerem Alp, are automatically considered thieves in the Fastness. The novel also features striking visual descriptions; for instance, when Gannen activates Neffie’s power, “The stars brightened, crackled and began oozing...like drips of glowing water rolling down black glass.” In the end, although Neffie is too young to fully embrace her destiny as one of the Fastness’ “half-human super-champions,” she nevertheless risks all for love and life. After this installment’s cliffhanger, fans will likely flock to a sequel.
A rousing series opener with equal portions of action and social commentary.