Kay - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

The Divide
(The Divide trilogy, Book 1)
Elizabeth Kay
Chicken House
Fiction, YA Fantasy

DESCRIPTION: Felix has known he was dying all his life, victim of an incurable heart disease, but he never expected to die in Costa Rica, straddling the Divide. Here, the waters split between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans... and reality itself grows thin enough for a boy to pass between worlds. He wakes in a strange place, where mythical animals and magic are real and humans and science are imaginary. After meeting a strangely math-obsessed griffin and escaping a doglike monster that kills with laughter, he finds himself with the elf girl Betony, in the company of "brittlehorns" (known on Earth as unicorns.) Though he may not be able to return back home, he discovers an unexpected hope: it's just possible that magic might succeed where medical science has failed, curing Felix's ailing heart.
Meanwhile, Betony's siblings, Tansy and Ramson, have traveled to the city of Tiratattle, trying to sell a new healing spell to Global Panaceas. But there's something not quite right about the japegrin-run outfit or the remedies they're churning out. Many of the potions seem to do more harm than good, and the owner, Snakeweed, seems every bit as elusive and devious as his name suggests.
Felix, Betony, Tansy, and Ramson soon find themselves in the heart of a conspiracy that threatens the whole magical world... and just might spill over into Earth.

REVIEW: On the surface, this story is loaded with superficial, Fluffy Bunny-type trappings. Dragons train as living aircraft, healer elves accidentally turn themselves to stone, students routinely transform inanimate objects into animals if their spelling tests go wrong, and so forth. But just beneath that silly surface lies a much darker layer. For instance, the doglike worrit, which tells jokes and performs pratfalls for its victims, quite literally can kill through laughter; even doubled over in mirth, characters feel the raw terror of their helplessness. Pharmaceutical malpractice and environmental destruction lie at the heart of the tale, which racks up a higher body count than many adult books I've read... and death in the magical world is just as final as death on Earth, with no crossed-fingers or convenient outs. No race or species comes across as entirely good or entirely evil; they all have many shades of morality, even the demonic sinistroms, and no character is so perfect that they have nothing to learn. It moves at a fair pace, starting fast and rarely letting up until the ending - which, naturally, sets up plenty of tension for Book 2. Once in a while the messages felt a trifle heavy-handed, but overall I enjoyed this story, and look forward to tracking down the rest of the trilogy.

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