In this grabber of a debut, Michaels introduces the Eight Countries, a world of magic, science, strange beasts like ragas and firebills–and secrets, which the teen hero will uncover. Sixteen year old Jimmy Chartron is excited to study the newfangled field of electricity at Navale Academy. But his big plans get upended when his wanderings around the school cause him to awaken and fuse with the hundred-year-old ghost of a hero called Tessa Stormwing. Tessa, killed on a mysterious mission, realizes that the appearance of a raga–a rat-like creature not seen since the Last War–means that the forces that killed her so long ago may not yet be vanquished. As she and Jimmy dig deeper, she discovers that the war is not as over as everyone believes, and that the fate of all Eight Countries rests on him and his ghostly companion.
Jimmy’s world is exciting and unique. Despite starting out at a school, the story quickly ventures out into a wide world of magical trains, airships, and the gulf between the official history and the actual history of the Eight Countries. While Jimmy’s adventures can at times feel like he’s a game protagonist following a tutorial, he exhibits a hearty, can-do attitude that makes him enjoyable to read; he holds his own with a very strong supporting cast. Michaels surrounds his protagonist with strong and interesting women, including the fort leader Jenna, who takes on a mentoring role; the prickly but helpful nurse Christine; and of course, Tessa the ghost, fallen hero, who at times can be bossy though she genuinely cares about Jimmy.
The plot is straightforward, with more action than talk, but still builds to a satisfying confrontation with the villain. A fresh adventure through a unique magical world, this series start will leave readers eagerly awaiting a sequel. Fans of fantasy series–and RPG games–will relish the story’s world and style.
Takeaway: Christopher Mannino’s The Scythe Wielder’s Secret, C.M. Carney’s Barrow King.
Great for fans of: This promising YA fantasy debut pits a teen boy and a ghost hero against the secrets of the past.
Production grades Cover: A Design and typography: A- Illustrations: N/A Editing: A Marketing copy: A