Publishers WeeklyDebut novelist McNish's imaginative if somewhat predictable fantasy begins with evil witch Dragwena kidnapping Rachel and her younger brother, Eric, and taking them to her icy world of Ithrea. There, Rachel cultivates magical gifts with help from Dragwena's kindly assistant, Morpeth, and Eric discovers a power of his own (he can break spells, but not cast them). Rachel also learns of Dragwena's sinister plan: since being banished from Earth, Dragwena has kidnapped children, killing or enslaving them, as she searches for a child with enough magical powers to help her return for revenge. Rachel could be this child, or she could be the "child-hope," a legendary hero amongst Ithrea's slaves, whom they believe can return them to Earth. A final face-off with Dragwena is inevitable, but first Rachel faces a forest of murderous trees, strange half-crowhalf-baby creatures and talking killer wolves as she searches for safety. McNish draws a clear line between good and evil, and there's never a doubt who will win the showdown, but the author will win over readers with his creative descriptions of strange Ithrea, and especially examples of Rachel's magic (in one of her early spells, she creates chocolate sandwiches from nothing; later, she tries to fool the witch by filling the sky with thousands of identical clones of herself). The conclusion hints strongly at a sequel. Ages 9-12. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's LiteratureRachel and Eric are disturbed by the same dreams of children suffering in a cold, dark, far-off world. One Saturday morning they find themselves sucked into this strange world controlled by the witch, Dragwena. The brother and sister, however, are not like the other children under Dragwena's control; combined, they have powers that can resist her. The children decide that their "mission" is to rescue as many of the unfortunate children as possible, but to succeed they must call upon all the strength they can muster. In this modern battle between good and evil, the courage and goodness of the children outwit Dragwena and provide a satisfactory ending to a story full of spells, potions and magic. Middle grade fantasy readers will find McNish's first book captivating and exciting.
School Library JournalGr 5-8-Rachel and Eric have been having identical dreams about an evil witch on a frozen world, but no one takes their story seriously-until the witch breaks through to their world via their cellar wall, capturing them as their father tries to save them. Plummeting through immeasurable emptiness between the worlds, Rachel discovers that she has new powers to control her descent and the space around her, which she uses to catch Eric and bring them both to a safe landing on Ithrea. The witch Dragwena and her dwarf slave Morpeth are there to greet them. Each of them has awaited their arrival for a very different reason. Dragwena has kidnapped many Earth children with the hope of finding one with powers equal to her own to share her evil reign over Ithrea and feels that Rachel could be the one. Morpeth hopes that she will fulfill an ancient prophesy and free the dwarves from Dragwena's enslavement. The remainder of the story becomes a series of life-and-death battles between the witch and almost everyone else on Ithrea. There is an abundance of both good and bad magic, many spells and transformations, and plenty of blood and gore reminiscent of popular video games. Readers will enjoy the plot and action, and probably won't miss the details of character development and philosophy that are found in more detailed fantasies. There is room for a sequel, as the novel ends with Rachel, Eric, and Morpeth heading back through the cellar wall to Earth and home.-Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus ReviewsA monumental battle of good versus evil pits children against an ancient witch outcast from earth. Rachel and her brother Eric are literally pulled amid wind and darkness into this world by the monstrous claws of a black creature. The evil witch, Dragwena, recognizes Rachel's unusual power, begins her tutelage, and attempts to make Rachel her accomplice in revenge for her expulsion from earth centuries ago. All the inhabitants on the planet are in the thrall of Dragwena, yet some have gathered together to be ready for the child-hope prophesied. The evil is the stuff of nightmares; red-eyed wolves, worms that cling, crows with baby heads, and especially Dragwena, who has a snake for a necklace, tattooed green eyes that can meet at the back of her head, and four jaws of teeth that produce spiders instead of spit. McNish creates a surprisingly coherent fantasy world that still has multiple magical transformations on practically every page. Not for the fainthearted: heads are chopped off, spiders are eaten, blood turns yellow, ears are torn, and there is no attempt to soften or keep the battle offstage. The magic here is vivid and the underlying themes sufficiently subtle, yet curiously, it is hard to be truly engaged. The world of Ithrea is splashy and busy like a movie full of special effects that forgets the humanity of its characters. The nonstop action is a big asset for this, but it allows no time to become attached to the characters or empathize with the downtrodden. An opportunity for a sequel is provided at the end-an attractive option for those who care more for pyrotechnics than characters. (Fiction. 10-14)
- Gardners Books
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