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In Darkness It Waits
Dash Duvall, author
Jett Jefferies never spends time thinking of pirates or studying the horns of ifrits. He never imagines encountering omnipotent birds or battling banshees in castle turrets. But things change on Halloween when a portal opens below his bed, yanking Jett into a distant world.
Seventh-grader Jett Jeffries is about to have his world tossed upside down. After an unsettling encounter with a spooky talking scarecrow on the eve of Halloween, he discovers a secret door that passes through a quantum barrier into a new world named Pararealm, an industrialized dystopia. This is a place where the citizens possess supernatural powers, teleportation is the preferred mode of transportation, and monsters lie in wait to attack. Jett discovers that his encounter with the scarecrow connects to an old legend rooted in Pararealm’s history. With the help of his new friends, Jett must bravely unravel a mystery and unveil corruption if he is ever going to make it back home.

Duvall creates a fun, imaginative reality. From woolly mammoth burgers to an encounter with a baku, a supernatural creature that feeds off dreams and turns them into nightmares, the creative fantasy elements sewn into the fabric of this middle-grade adventure continually surprise. At times, they maybe do so too much—some elements, like the heliokinetic energy as the method of providing power for the Pararealm citizen’s mystical abilities, are introduced without much background, which can cause readers to miss an opportunity to fully anchor themselves within the scene or the greater reality of the Pararealm. Still, the premise more than lives up to its promise of thrilling battles and harrowing tribulations, with the dangers and villains, like the memorable General Zoon, being just scary enough to grip readers but never harrowing.

In Darkness it Waits delivers lovely themes of friendship, perseverance, and bravery. Duvall is also mindful of the large cast of characters and tangled plot points and inserts helpful quick recaps into the dialogue ensuring readers the chance to stay engaged in the fast-paced action. Fantasy fans looking for a middle-grade quest filled with magic and supernatural elements will enjoy this adventure.

Takeaway: Inventive portal fantasy of a dystopia, weird monsters, and friendship.

Comparable Titles: A.G. Howard's Shades of Rust and Ruin, Ann Fraistat's What We Harvest.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-