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Curtis Edmonds
A Circle of Firelight

On the battlefield of dreams, the strongest weapons are imagination--and love.

Ashlyn Revere is a bright, determined and resourceful college graduate trying to get a job in publishing. When Ashlyn and her sister Penny are left comatose after an automobile accident, they find themselves in Summervale, a beautiful and perilous realm straight from the pages of fantasy novels--which is ruled by a mysterious Dark Lord. When Ashlyn discovers that Penny is being held captive, she enlists the help of a talking black rabbit and a scarlet knight to save her sister.

Ashlyn learns that Penny is deep within her own fantasy of Regency romance—and that she sees being in a coma as a way to escape from her daily struggles with cystic fibrosis. Ashlyn tries to rescue her anyway, but a fire-breathing dragon and a real-world seizure complicate her plans.

As Penny recovers from her injuries and leaves Summervale, Ashlyn is rescued by a servant of the Dark Lord who promises to show her just how precarious her own medical situation is. In the real world, Ashlyn’s medical condition has worsened, forcing her doctors to consider risky surgery. Ashlyn rejects an offer from the Dark Lord to remain in Summervale forever, and chooses to raise an army of knights to fight for her freedom and independence.

Penny must face a choice of her own. As Ashlyn hovers between life and death, Penny learns that Ashlyn would be a good match to provide the donor set of lungs that Penny needs to free her from the constraints of cystic fibrosis.

As doctors battle to save Ashlyn’s life, she leads her forces against the Dark Lord in a desperate conflict in the streets of an imaginary Manhattan—while Penny must find the answer to her own destiny in a dying circle of firelight. Can the sisters rescue themselves—and each other?

A CIRCLE OF FIRELIGHT blends postmodern fantasy and real-world emotional conflict in a daring tale that will delight adult and young adult readers alike.

Two sisters struggle to connect across the borders of a dreamworld in this homage to fantasy coming-of-age stories. Ashlyn Revere is driving from her home in New Jersey to a job interview in Manhattan when she discovers her teenage sister, Penny, hiding in the backseat. Ashlyn isn’t thrilled with Penny’s demand to tag along, as Penny’s cystic fibrosis makes any venture out of the house a challenge, but a car crash cuts short their argument. Ashlyn awakens in Summervale, where her thoughts and emotions manifest in alarming ways. (“That’s what happens when you lose it and get really angry, you know. Dragons. Sea monsters. Big scary scaly things coming at you.”) Meanwhile, Penny wakes in the hospital to the news that Ashlyn has suffered a traumatic brain injury and her survival is anything but certain. Ashlyn must confront a Dark Lord made of her “anger and fear and hate” while fearing that her physical life hangs in the balance.

Edmonds (Snowflake’s Chance) positions this tale somewhere between a paean to fantasy novels and a pastiche of them, studding it with dozens of pop-culture and literary references. Ashlyn’s journey feels paint-by-numbers at times, and her quest leaves a few unanswered questions. Summervale feels underdeveloped, a blank canvas for a collage of allusions. The real-world aspects of the novel—Penny’s fear for her sister’s survival, the Reveres’ struggles with Penny’s fragile health—are much clearer and more fraught.

Though the premise is a bit clunky, the execution is for the most part charming and clever, with lively dialogue, easy pacing, and fleshed-out protagonists. Although secondary characters can seem sketchy by comparison, Edmonds deftly captures the friction and love between two sisters who are constantly at odds but have each others’ backs. This culminates in a touching scene between Ashlyn and Penny, with their usual roles of caretaker and patient reversed. Edmonds’s novel evokes the magic of portal fantasies while grounding it with emotionally resonant relationships.

Takeaway: Fans of YA portal fantasies will enjoy this story of two sisters supporting each other through a challenging quest.

Great for fans of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A