All her life Jessica Drake has dreamed of other worlds, some of them similar to her own, others disturbingly alien. She never shares the details with anyone, save her younger brother Tommy, a compulsive gamer who incorporates some aspects of Jessica’s dreams into his games. But now someone is asking about those dreams…and about her. A strange woman has been watching her house. A visitor to her school attempts to take possession of her dream-inspired artwork.
As she begins to search for answers it becomes clear that whoever is watching her does not want her to learn the truth. One night her house catches on fire, and when the smoke clears she discovers that her brother has been kidnapped. She must figure out what is going on, and quickly, if she and her family are to be safe.
Following clues left behind on Tommy’s computer, determined to find her brother and bring him home safely, Jessica and two of her friends are about to embark on a journey that will test their spirits and their courage to the breaking point, as they must leave their own world behind and confront the source of Earth’s darkest legends – as well as the terrifying truth of their own secret heritage.
Way back when I reviewed Friedman’s Feast of Souls I mostly focused on how I felt that inviting comparison of that series as a “spiritual successor” to her Coldfire Trilogy wasn’t the best idea. What I didn’t mention was just how influential that former series really was me. I would go so far as to say that reading that book was a transformative experience. I can point to those books and tell you with all sincerity that that book had what I look for in my fantasy now: a fantasy world that isn’t just medieval earth, a plot that isn’t just save Kingdom X from Threat Y, magic that isn’t just another form of wand waving and characters that can’t be easily defined as good because their journey makes them make tough decisions that not all would agree with. I read those books when I was a young teen, when Young Adult really meant Middle Grade books like the Babysitter’s Club. These books really helped to shape who I am as a reader today so when I found out that Friedman was dipping her toes in Young Adult fare I wanted to see. If I had been a teen today, would her new book have made as much an impact on me now as those books did then? While the answer to that is “probably not,” that doesn’t mean that this is a bad book. Far be it, it’s actually one of the more enjoyable Young Adult titles I’ve read in a while and I think it has a great message about what family and how it ultimately runs deeper than simple blood.
Jessica (Jesse) Drake is a likable protagonist. She’s an artist with unique dreams that she translates into unique paintings. And although she is forced to question who she is when she discovers that she is literally not the child of her parents through a paternity test, but that there is no explanation for it, when malevolent forces kidnap her brother and burn down their house, she doesn’t think twice about going after to try and rescue her brother, even though she knows it’s most likely a suicide mission.
The plot here is a simple science-fiction tale of aliens and alternate worlds. Jesse makes friends with others like her and they join her because they know it’s only a matter of time before they’re next. The parallel world that Friedman creates is both recognizable and foreign at once, putting you at a slight disease because you the reader are as thrown off as Jesse and her friends are. There’s some good action here and the exposition as to the truth of her being is enough to catch your eye, but not slow you down. You do get the sense that this book is really meant to be the set up for a grander tale to come, but the experience does feel complete in and of itself, which I do like to see in books that are meant to a series.
The weakest point of the book is in the characterization. All suffer from it, but the biggest offenders are the friends Devon and Rita. They join Jesse on her trip – and aren’t very well developed. Rita is the Foster Child, bounced from indifferent house to indifferent house and would probably end up in jail one day if she hadn’t met up with Jesse. Devon, a potential love interest that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, is a nice Rich Kid whose money finances the trip and feels awkward on Virginia Prime because he is African American in an America where few exist and feels bad for the slaves because he imagines the plight of his people in their position and not much else. They’re cardboard characters. Jesse is fleshed out enough to avoid that, though this book will never be considered to be character driven. It’s far from a fatal flaw, but it is something to note.
So all said, I still recommend this book. It’s science fiction in a time when Young Adult genre fare is dominated by fantasy, the parallel worlds are a cool concept and there’s some interesting set up for later books. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is a breath of fresh air and a fun read for those looking for something a little different and it’s worth a look.
Verdict: Buy It