This story started off good. Actually better than good. A little bit of youthful sabotage that turns into something much more serious and then an epic adventure. What’s not to love. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t pumped for this. I was more than ready. Then I sorta fell off.
The characters and the world are defined well enough, but my problem with it is I got a good third into the book and, as the story is about brothers, one of the brothers has yet to explain the reason he’s so angry all the time, or why he harbours hostility towards his parents. That’s the child raised in the fantasy realm. Everything is always an argument with him which serves no real purpose as I still don’t know why he’s angry. This is a short story, so by this point, after all the action and excitement as a reader if I’m not on board with his motivations it’s a lost cause, with the main plot, using the map to find a dragon, looming overhead, and with no means of travelling where they have to go without bribery and stealth, not knowing this and having to put up with it for more than a third of the book was just frustrating.
Tom, the boy included in the excellent first chapter, is also hard to love. This book, unfortunately, took the let’s hide someone in the human realm and not tell him anything about who he is and then, just thrust him into it angle. All the time they spent talking when the map was pulled out could’ve been spent giving him a rough outline of what he was up against and then using the magic of the map as proof of their words. Instead, readers just have to deal with all the confusion and wait for some clarity. Even though just based on the blurb we all know where it’s going, and then also have to endure him being trusted a book at the very last moment and told to study it hard and then Tom wakes up in a new realm.
It took a while to walk to the portal, all that time could’ve been a rushed talk about the book, its importance and most importantly that he had a twin brother. I can’t think of a single reason why the pirate who came for him, and the headmaster who knows everything about him, didn’t rush to tell him everything as quickly as humanly possible instead of talking amongst themselves about useless information. Mostly because they both, especially the headmaster, knew they were pressed for time. That and once on the other side he’s met with a boy, who based on the blurb I immediately assumed was the brother, greets him with anger and just thrusts clothes at him. All this made me second guess if I was wrong and then to find out I wasn’t, much later, made it seem even more strange he didn’t just come out with it. Even if he hated him, he could’ve at the very least said the way he was dressed would make him stand out and to change before he leaves if he doesn’t want to, you know, get killed. And again from the opening sequence to coming through the portal a lot, as it was revealed in a chapter later on in the book, could’ve been solved.
However, not explaining well enough when they had the time was a plot device so that, when they are under attack, Tom can refuse to run, (because they obviously have time to stop for a tale because the villains will stop looking for them) so that pirate guy can tell them the story of their beginnings. Pirate guy should’ve picked him up and forcibly made him escape. It’s not just the holding of info for a specific moment thing that was off. In a strange new world, when faced with how things are different he thinks he can run away from someone when he doesn’t know the streets, where he is, and his guide is not with him. Tom decides I have to help some random stranger and gets caught, having to be saved by the very brother who doesn’t like him. And no, Tom still has no idea who he is and readers still don’t know why he hates him, and his own parents so much. This, much like the story about his past being withheld for the ‘right’ moment served a purpose later on.
Because of Tom’s incident, the people involved in helping with the failed and easier mode of transportation get arrested because clues were left behind leading to them. All because he decided impulsively to save a kid. So after feeling all the guilt of acting before thinking and with their new mode of escape waiting, or as the ‘thief boy’ said will not wait. He and the brother decide to save the prisoners. Sigh. What was the point of feeling the weight and consequences of saving the thief in the first place if he’s going to save more people and not get on the cart and complete the task at hand?
This was my problem here. As the first in the series readers know nothing. Yet all of the infodumps first books have is missing. Why is Tom’s brother so angry and how does the magic work? If only the boys can work the map was their father a warlock or simply a mapmaker and if not how did he impart magic into the map before they were even born. If he worked for the bad guy willingly what changed for bad guy to decide to abduct his children. Is there some mystery prophecy out there involving the twins? Basically, why is he the bad guy? The twins aren’t identical, one dark one light, so what’s going on there. I dunno. I guess if nothing was going to be mentioned. A lot of action leading to some point where they were safe for a moment enough to talk around a campfire or something to reveal all would’ve been preferable. But as it’s written there was time in the opening sequence to mention important details. There was also time for Tom’s brother to mention he was heading out for papers so they could travel without getting caught. The pace wasn’t moving so fast that there wasn’t time for me as a reader to not pause and think “well why wasn’t this mentioned here.”
All that aside. I honestly think no one will care. I had a negative reaction but something about this reads like it will be a mostly five-star review kind of book once it takes off. I thought about just shooting for five stars myself but Tom not learning the hard lesson that in bad times you can’t just go saving everybody in a foreign land and ignore the information given you the first time was okay. But doing it twice means it’ll probably happen continuously. Just like, and I say this a lot, in Harry Potter after they take him from his home in book seven and he throws a disarming curse in mid-air. Moody died, one of the twins lost an ear, they are in the middle of war and his only excuse was if he shot another curse he would’ve fallen off his broom and died. In the seventh and final book, they still have to deal with this type of hero save everyone attitude.
In hard times, people die, enemies and friends. The inability to show this or have the protagonist learn this hard fact through entire books is one of my biggest pet peeves. Sometimes, for the greater good, you have to walk away and I find this causes more harm than good in YA/Teen fiction as we’re expected to continuously be on board with and love heroes that make judgement calls based on their own personal needs and beliefs. I guess I just can’t do it anymore so this is a solid 3 from me and a Hard recommendation because though it doesn’t fit for me for fans of this genre, the level of angst avoidable or not, expected in these teen/YA epic hero adventures is not just perfect, it’s probably more than so.