No, this is not a review about a new Marvel movie or the latest Percy Jackson book. This is a review of the first book of a new fantasy series by Rachel Tetley. According to Goodreads, this book is for a YA audience - I say screw that: this book is good and everyone should read it.
Plot: worlds collide, but really shouldn't
Jake Summers is your average kid who lives in a small town with a close-knit community and family. As many young boys, he adores his grandfather and playing in the woods. Little does he know that his grandfather is living both in this world and a supernatural underworld. He was the guardian of that world and had to guarantee that earth (is that what we call our world?) and the underworld can exist together. His last goal? To prepare Jake for the job he'll have to do when his grandfather passes away. However, his grandfather mysteriously dies before he has the chance to tell Jake anything. How do you figure out that you are in charge of keeping the earth and underworld at peace? I know I couldn't, but Jake someone manages - with the help of a creepy old lady that lives next door and somehow knows everything (Seriously, I would love to see it explained in the next book HOW she knows everything?!).
Description is a skill
Every author and reader knows that it's difficult to describe a realistic new world. We all know earth and will forgive a writer for small inconsistencies. But when there is a new world in a book, we, or at least I, suddenly get way more critical and want 1. all our questions answered and 2. everything to make sense and to be coherent. There are a handful of authors who can actually write a good new world: J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie,... And now Rachel Tetley. I'm not one for the fantasy genre - I don't really believe that there ever could be a good new world out there (like the wardrobe in Narnia, come on). But Rachel had me buying into it. I didn't believe there's actually an underworld that you can dive into through a river, which is what Jake does, but I did believe the world she described and lost all of my criticism so that I could thoroughly enjoy the story.
The underworld is like our world, but just different enough for it to be enjoyable. If I should compare it to any other world, I would pick Wonderland. It's not quite as crazy, but it seems like everything is just a tad differently than our world. And you can't eat anything in the Underworld, nor is there an evil queen... But there are talking animals, so it sort of works.
Jake has to fulfil Five Challenges to become the new guardian (the reason why exactly is a major spoiler, so I'll stay quiet on that) and those Five Challenges include dragons, an intense sea/ocean journey and aggressive floors. Not anything we could find on earth, but described in a way that made it believable. The challenges were very reminiscent of Harry Potter and his huge chess game, catching a key amidst hundreds of flying keys,... .You get the idea - it's exciting and thrilling to read.
Jake and Arianna
Jake of course doesn't go on his adventure alone (when does any character?), but he goes with Arianna - his classmate/crush/friend. Jake is the main character and he is the typical "I'm a hero now and don't know what to do - someone help me" at the beginning of the book. And there's Arianna, the Hermione of The Guardian of the Underworld. Arianna is a lot smarter, braver and more realistic than Jake. She thinks of things to bring, she thinks of things to be careful of, she thinks of trusting the right people in the underworld. And then they get to the underworld and she kinda falls flat.
I understand that the Five Challenges are Jake's time to shine and really shrug off the surprise of being the guardian and show that he can handle being a hero. But I loved Arianna, she was such a good role model and I wish she didn't give Jake the time to shine - she could have been a lot better in the challenges than him. But I guess it was a bound to happen, because Jake is the main character. But I loved Arianna's sense of humour and wittiness and I hope she'll remain a major part of this story.
Challenge completed - wait, already?
Besides the thing with Arianna, which I think must be a preference more than a criticism, I must say that I struggled with the length of the Five Challenges. All the challenges happen at the end of the book and it almost feels like they were rushed. The concept is so amazing, the ideas of the challenges are so amazing, but the writing? Some challenges only take a few pages, while I really feel like it could have been more. The story never dragged on at any point, so I don't see why it couldn't have been a longer book. I hope in the next book, Rachel will focus more on the action - and Arianna!
Simply for the fact that Arianna was in this book, I have to give it a good rating. However, as you might have noticed, Jake didn't really do anything for me. He was a decent main character, he wasn't annoying to read, but he also didn't really make me root for him. I would have cried if Arianna died, but Jake? I guess I would have been sad, but no tears for me.
So I can't give it 5 stars, but I'll give it 4. Because it is the first book of a series and I really hope Jake will develop more and gain a place in my heart. And also because that was the only real flaw I found in the novel.
I definitely have high hopes for book number two, Rachel!
Oh and on a small slightly underrated note, even though I read a pdf document of the book, I loved the design of it. The cover is GORGEOUS, the chapter numbers are, the lettering,... Everything. This book is a beauty from cover until end.