Imogen and her little sister Marie are not perfect children. They fight and yell, and are rude and obnoxious to each other, to their mum and to their grandmother. These sisters, who become the heroes of the story, are introduced as rather tiresome and disagreeable characters.
While sulking in a wild abandoned garden, Imogen follows an interesting moth which leads her to a door in a tree. This door is a portal to a magical world. Marie follows Imogen through the door and soon the two of them are embroiled in a race from evil monsters. A young boy, Miro, offers them refuge behind a locked door, saving them from certain death and forming a friendship which becomes central to the story.
Miro is a young prince and they find refuge in his castle. His land is ruled by his uncle, King Drakomor, who is in charge until the young prince comes of age and becomes king. Drakomor is a foolish man, obsessed with possessions and gathering treasures in the castle. He falls in love with an evil woman who wants to be queen.
The scene is set, the world is explained and now the real adventure begins.
This story is a fast-paced and scary tale which incorporates many of the key ingredients of traditional fairy tales and fantasy stories: a villainous stepmother figure, a foolish and hard-hearted king, a young prince whose life is in danger due to a scheming relative, monstrous and misunderstood enemies, a stolen treasure that must be returned so that harmony can be restored, a brave and clever hunter, a dancing bear, a prophetic witch and a magical clock that warns of future events.
Miro, Imogen and Marie embark on a quest which tests their courage and friendship, with each character learning important lessons about themselves which change their outlook and behaviours. They learn to take responsibility for their own actions. They identify values they expect others to demonstrate and they consider whether they are living those values themselves. By the end of the story, we see that these children have transformed in numerous ways, becoming much more likeable characters. We want them to succeed and find happiness.
This is not a story for the faint-hearted! There are some rather gruesome details. The monsters like to “slice and dice” their victims. Prejudice and bigotry are demonstrated by some characters. I found the cruelty to animals confronting. The story and characters create many points for discussion which will make this a useful book in classrooms, libraries and at home. Reader notes or teaching notes would be useful.
I would recommend this book for readers 10+ and all fans of The Chronicles of Narnia. It is part of a trilogy so fans of series will be confident to invest in learning about the world and its characters. There is a satisfying conclusion with just enough left unresolved to make the reader curious about the next book. I can imagine fans of this series will graduate to books such as The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and the Earthsea books by Ursula Le Guin. It’s a great entry to a world of marvellous reading!