Normal teenagers are thrust into a world of magic in this heartfelt, occasionally hair-raising story for the Harry Potter set.
Walter’s debut novel, the first in a planned series, is a competent if familiar new addition to the plethora of fantasy novels for middle-grade readers and young adults. After 14-year-old Ambril’s first night being chased by monsters through a forest in the Pacific Northwest—and then meeting a wisecracking cast of talking inanimate objects—she protests: “There must be some mistake. Because I’m really just an ordinary kid.” She was an ordinary kid until the day she and her family moved from San Francisco back to their ancestral home, the remote magical village of Trelawnyd. In the shuffle of the move, Ambril discovers an enchanted puzzle box, called an Ashera, that contains a mysterious medallion, setting her off on an episodic quest to uncover the secrets of the objects, the town and her father’s death years before. While she’s busy adjusting to a life of magic, Ambril also faces the challenges of any kid moving to a new place—bullies, mean teachers and making new friends. Not that Ambril isn’t used to it: In the first chapter, her mother asks, “How many times is this, Sweetie?” Walter’s adult characters, like Ambril’s mother and sinister soon-to-be stepfather, tend to be unlikable caricatures, but Ambril is funny and appealing, as are her grouchy brother and two sidekicks, an unpopular girl with a “New Family” (not of magical heritage) and a Scottish transplant who doesn’t fit in, either. Though there’s nothing groundbreaking in Walter’s particular vision of a world where monsters prowl the woods and plants have personalities, it still offers plenty of suspense and dangerous near-misses as Ambril investigates who in town has been conjuring the demonic Dullaiths. The cliff-hanger ending will leave readers craving the next installment.
Bound to satisfy young readers hungry for tales of magic, adventure and friendship.