When 13-year-old Elijah Pendleton investigates a strange black cat that mysteriously appeared in his backyard, he finds himself at the doorstep of a woman who will split the understructure of his miserable existence by divulging his true identity as an Enchanter. When she also reveals his parents, whom he believed had abandoned him at birth, may, in fact, be laboring under the callous imprisonment of a power-driven dark ruler bent on revenge and total domination, Elijah feels compelled to do whatever it takes to find them; even if it means stepping through a hidden portal into another world to find them himself. If the long-awaited prophecy is correct, then Elijah’s arrival will bring forth the end to the land’s decade-long reign of darkness. But if the prophecy is to be fulfilled, Elijah will first have to survive the long and treacherous journey that awaits.
Elijah’s story progresses nicely through discrete action sequences. Some descriptions are wordy and stilted (“as though he had just stepped into a lush Bob Ross painting littered with impeccable detail of briars, brambles and tall shrubs flanking the trail before him”), and there’s an unfortunate tendency to make good people pretty and bad ones “thoroughly repulsive.” The exposition primarily relies on Elijah listening to lectures from other characters. The final battle between Elijah and Theodoric rushes past and strains believability: despite Elijah’s very recent discovery of any magical abilities, he casts a level ten spell, a metric of magical difficulty that is never fully explained.
Despite these blips, the novel is entertaining and endearing. The blend of references to various mythologies (sasquatch, wingless dragons, giants called Nephilims) and nods to more recent works (a flying broom, a golden compass, faux-Latin spell names) makes a complicated world with lots of possibilities that are only hinted at. Unresolved questions, incomplete reunions, and a new quest nicely set up the sequel. Teens who enjoy seeing a prophesied hero stumbling into power and wandering across a fantasy map while making friends will be pleased by Alexander’s debut.
Takeaway: This is an enjoyable diversion for teen fans of traditional portal fantasies.
Great for fans of Rick Riordan, Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander series.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: A
"Elijah Pendleton's adventure begins when he rescues a cat caught in an oak tree. That's pretty normal for any thirteen year old (at least, any good-hearted thirteen year old), but not when there has never been an oak tree in the yard before. It's impossible to say whether things grow odder when the oak tree vanishes. Well, they do, but not because of the oak tree. Things grow odder because Elijah Pendleton is in a YA adventure novel.
Alexander uses multiple tropes frequent readers of such novels will recognize, but chief among them is Elijah's home life. He's miserable at school, but part of that is because he lives with two aunts reminiscent of Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker from James and the Giant Peach. His aunts are physically and emotionally abusive, but Elijah is granted rescue -- of a sort -- when he learns two facts about his long-lost parents. First, they are Enchanters, and he has inherited their magical abilities. Second, they are not in Hawaii, as he was brought up to think, but in a land called the Mythic Realms, held captive. What follows, as Elijah sets out to rescue them, is an epic adventure that puts me in mind of the fantasy novels I devoured all through middle and high school.While I'm certain this book would be enjoyed by girls who were like me and will read every fantasy novel they can get their hands on, its primary audience will be boys in middle and early high school. Elijah's travels are thrilling, and the Mythic Realms equal any high-fantasy world I can recall from my own reading adventures. His companions (because what's a YA quest novel without companions?) hit the perfect balance between being amusing and genuine, with a delightful wit that any preteen will enjoy.
My one complaint about the book is purely cosmetic and may well not bother most readers. There are a few handwritten notes throughout, and the fonts chosen to present the handwriting were difficult to read without squinting. Skimming over them rather than reading every word didn't affect my enjoyment of the story, but those with poor eyesight or who enjoy reading in dim light (for instance, when they should be asleep) may struggle at those points. On the whole, however, the book was a delight to read, bringing back memories of when I would set down a similar novel and fantasize about what my own adventures might be like if I were an Enchanter. This is the best new YA novel I've read all year!"