If you’re going to publish a juvenile fantasy book in this post-Harry Potter world, you invite comparisons. Particularly if your cover features a red and gold bird, three kids wearing cloaks, and a large castle (that we learn is under a powerful curse called...a Krux). Also if your heroine is an orphan raised by mean aunts. Especially if your heroine learns she belongs to another world and returns there along with other clueless kids who now know they have magical abilities. And if, in the dining hall, your heroine notices a shifty, greasy-haired adult who favors the bully in the group (and said bully, born and raised in the magical world, has only nasty things to say about the newcomers who weren’t raised with magic), have you gone too far?
Synopsis: Root Karbunkulus, an orphan from the world of DreAmm, was raised by two "aunts" who treat her as a slave. One day, she hears the ring of a phone no one else can hear. She finds out the truth of her origins and reports to DreAmm where she becomes part of a Quest, a competition to find six magical items. The first item is the Miist of Kalliope, and she is teamed up with Lian (whose father is powerful in DreAmm) and another orphan, Dwyn. Notable competitors include the bully, Kor, and the Pinks, a team led by an annoying girly-girl whose influential mother has always gotten her way. These aren't the only obstacles, of course, as the Quest is very dangerous, but the team is guided by the elderly and eccentric Jorab. Will Root and her team find the Miist so they can go on to star in five more books, each devoted to a different magical item?
This is a difficult book for me to rate. The Harry Potter similarities dominated the reading of first part of the book for me, and there are a couple of glaring flaws (not to mention inept comma usage and other editorial problems that drove me to distraction), but the bottom line is that I want to read Book 2, and not just because I'm a desperate soul in need of a Harry Potter fix. I was fortunate to win this copy from a giveaway at Mama Bear Reads, which is now The Library at the END of the Universe, and I'm very glad that I had the opportunity to read it. Kamilla Reid has a fine imagination and a way with storytelling, when she's not overly conscious of being clever or outdoing Harry Potter. The latter half of the novel was particularly engaging, and I finally forgot that I was reading a post-Potter fantasy. One of her characters, a wisteria vine, was really creative (in fact everything about the scenes with Bumplekins was spot-on), and I loved the Hovermutts with their sweet backstory. Root's meeting with the gentle Mordge was a lovely, touching scene. And the whole bit with the Simp is beyond cool--very inventive and well-executed.
The two glaring flaws: First, Root shows a startling lack of interest in her origins. If you discovered that your aunts weren't your aunts at all, but had found you with a note telling them to take you to an orphanage, and you were returned to the magical land from which you came...wouldn't you be wondering, "Am I really an orphan? If not, where are my parents? If so, what happened to my parents? Why was I sent to live on earth? Why was I called back now?"
Second, they are barely in DreAmm (ugh, that overly clever name drives me nuts--it's pronounced Dray-am, not Dream), and many have not even found their magical abilities, when they are sent on this quest, and we have no idea what the purpose is. Is it a contrived contest, like in Goblet of Fire, or are the items needed for some greater purpose (to save DreAmm from the enemy we finally hear a bit about after page 140 or so)? If it's a contest, why not have training for the newcomers first? What’s the occasion? If it's for a greater purpose, why send children, especially the clueless, magically inept newcomers? I can understand wanting to save background for future books (even Rowling did that, with Dumbledore saying he'd tell Harry about things when he's older), but to not even acknowledge that the reader would have these questions is sloppy.
Overall (finally, I can hear you muttering), I would recommend that fans of Harry Potter and other juvenile fantasy novels give this one a try. I found a lot to like here, and I hope that the issues that were driving me bonkers will be addressed in future books, and that Reid will step out of the Harry Potter shadow and embrace her own ample creativity.