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Marcos Chavarria
M. Ch. Landa, author

How much are you willing to sacrifice for those who you love?

Orphaned under mysterious circumstances and raised by her grandmother, Maia thinks she’s left her tragic past behind her. Now a dreamy seventeen-year-old, Maia longs to find true love with her high school crush when she receives the appalling news that her long-dormant Cancer has returned, not just to mess with her romantic plans, but to ruin her entire life.

One night, during her stay at the hospital, Maia is visited by a peculiar young man who confesses he is about to claim the soul of her beloved grandmother. But Maia offers her own soul instead, and joins this gorgeous harbinger of death in an odyssey to the hereafter. The dizzying journey takes Maia and her beguiling companion from an elaborate ball, to a steam locomotive in the sky, to a haunted abandoned country house, to the bottom of a lake, and other magical locales. They face otherworldly obstacles as Maia attempts to save her only relative and determine if there is any hope for her own tortured soul.

Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 8 out of 10
Overall: 8.00 out of 10


Plot: Vandella takes its readers on a dark journey through the realm that lies beyond the gates of Death. Seventeen-year-old Maia dares the Hereafter to save her grandmother's soul on a thrilling journey, only to find the value of her own.

Prose/Style: In the lush, baroque tradition of such classics of the macabre as Interview with the Vampire, the novel spins along at a dizzying pace. Vandella is an imaginative and vivid tale of both love and horror.

Originality: Setting the bulk of the novel in the world beyond is a daring choice, but M. Ch. landa effectively pulls this move off. The afterworld portrayed in this novel might give Dante himself nightmares.

Character Development/Execution: The star-crossed lovers Maia and Sidney – her enigmatic guide through the afterworld – are appealingly portrayed. The plot twists are many, and the action is fast, much to readers' satisfaction.

Date Submitted: April 30, 2021

Landa’s debut novel follows Maia Foster––a 17 year-old cancer survivor raised by her grandmother––as she journeys through the afterlife to save her grandmother’s life. A regular high school student with a crush on a popular jock and conflict with local mean girls, Maia sees her world fall apart when her doctor breaks the news that her cancer is coming back. Then things get strange: She wakes up in the hospital and sees a mysterious man touching her grandmother’s forehead. That stranger Sidney, who looks young but has an air of agelessness about him, hints at knowledge of life, death, and souls, and tells Maia that she has the opportunity to save her grandmother’s life, but for a price. Maia accepts, and together they take a dazzling plunge into the afterlife. But there she loses the medallion that protects her and then, one by one, her senses, all as she discovers that Sidney, her self-proclaimed “caregiver,” hasn’t been completely honest with her.

Featuring an angelic language, death personified, plus demigods and dragon, this coming-of-age story covers a lot of fantastical ground. Lovers of young adult romance steeped in fantastical journeys and coming-of-age themes will appreciate this story, if they’re comfortable with the issues of age, power, and consent that mostly go unaddressed in the budding romance between an underage teen and an apparently ageless being who can read her mind, has observed her since her girlhood, and is described in the narrative as a “man” while she’s referred to as a “girl.”

The descent into fantasy is slow and immersive, allowing time for the Maia and readers to acclimate to a convincing world, which helps develop stakes that give the story power. The worldbuilding is strong on both the fantastic and realistic sides, and a moving twist shifts the novel’s focus to familial love and sacrifice rather than romantic love.

Takeaway: Strong worldbuilding and an engaging teen protagonist ground this fantasy in real emotion.

Great for fans of: Archer Lakhani’s The Safekeeper, Neal Shusterman’s Everlost.

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