Mr. Heldrik lives in a house by himself doing nothing more than sitting around and sharpening his knife. The neighbor kids are afraid of him and create rumors that kids who get too close to THAT house risk losing body parts. So, is this going to be a slasher murder/mystery book? No way, this is a fun YA novel with lots of fantasy, an alternative universe, a bit of time travel, and an unstated invitation to make some comparisons to Game of Thrones (GoT).
Fearful young brother Jeff has hit a ball close to the Heldrik house. Older sister Bess volunteers to get it back. The ball landed close to a basement window of the Heldrik house. Attempting to grab it, Bess caused it to go through the window into the basement. She felt obligated to go into the basement, get the ball, and escape without being discovered by Heldrik. It did not work out because once in the basement she was unable to climb back up to the window; it was too high. OK, plan B. Quietly find a door and sneak out through the house. She found such a door, but instead of opening into the rest of the house, there was a mirror. There was not much time for reflection as curmudgeon Heldrik appeared and seemingly threatened her with a shotgun. So, through the looking glass and into an existence that had the countryside appearance of a feudal agrarian society.
It was not a welcoming world. First she was captured by a guy on horseback wearing a cloak. He was not alone; things looked grim. Then a mysterious rescuer appeared who shot an arrow into the neck of her would be captor, giving Bess a chance to flee. Success in this effort was negated by a near poisonous fruit she ate which rendered her unconscious. But not before she found a barn where she went into a semi-coma. Found and almost adopted by the farmer family that owned the barn; she stayed with them long enough to become minimally fluent in the language of this new world.
This new world was divided into several classes. The farmer family where Bess stayed was of the lowest class, the cadril. They were oppressed by a ruling class, Quistrils, divided into several levels, from Novice to Ascendant. Think of country folk and city folk but separated by a lot of malice and ill will. Bess had no place in this world, one that was connected to the “real” world by a portal or “conjunction.” The portal was unstable and subject to a degrading that would end in destruction. The rulers of this world knew about the conjunction, inhabitants of the real world did not. Rulers in this world feared invasion from the real world; the appearance of someone like Bess, a marginal was a threat. A solution was for the Quistrils to capture Bess, discover the location of the “conjunction”, and destroy it. Because the Quistrils were absolutely authoritarian and all the citizenry, Quistrils and cadrils, had a duty to report strangers such as Bess; it was just a matter of time before she would be discovered.
She was discovered during her lengthy stay with the farm family by a Quistril, who turned out to be Heldrik. He appeared in a guise several years younger than his real world existence. Although a Quistril, he despised the social injustices perpetrated by the Quistril system. He had followed Bess through the conjunction with the aim of rescuing her and returning her to her real world family. The rest of the novel will be a series of chase scenes as Heldrik and Bess attempt to return through the portal/mouse hole/conjunction, all names for the same thing. All of the incidents and conflicts will play out in a background of Quistil political differences that mirror the conflicts in GoT.
The writing is generally fast paced and entertaining. It only lags in the very detailed descriptions of the labyrinths that make up the Citadel, the headquarters compound of the Quistrils. I found myself trying to draw a map so I could keep up with where characters were at various points in their stories.
Although I will read more from this author, I did not read the preview following this novel. I just don’t like previews.