Gr 4–7—Eleven-year-old Holly Shepard hungers for adventure, but she's stuck in Middle America. When her mother's law firm sends the family to Oxford, England, Holly rejoices even as her younger brother, Ben, frets about high-speed Internet access. Once the family is settled into their new home, Holly receives a mysterious key and a cryptic riddle from their cottage caretaker. Holly, Ben, and their neighbor Everett enter the woods and use the key to open a doorway to Anglielle, an alternative, magical England. When Ben and Everett become the prisoners of Prince Avery, Holly finds help from the members of a hidden community that wishes to overthrow the current regime and release magic users and creatures from oppression. They claim she is an "Adept," someone who can wield great magic, and she must access her new powers to help free the boys. Meanwhile, Everett's decision to steal another key has repercussions for them all. Caterer presents an intriguing magical world that is unfortunately diminished by conventional plotting and dialogue. Anglielle's denizens are numerous and memorable, and detailed descriptions of the forest and castle enliven the prose, but the inorganic plot elements sometimes seem prescribed. For example, Everett telegraphs, carries out, and rehashes his decision to betray Holly in such an obvious fashion, it may engender eye rolling. Readers of Angie Sage's Magyk (HarperCollins, 2005) or Bruce Coville's Into the Land of the Unicorns (Scholastic, 1994) will want to follow Holly's adventures even if uninspired plotting prevents an intriguing idea from reaching its full potential.—Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT
In this earnest first novel, 11-year-old Holly Shepard, her annoying younger brother, and their overprotective parents relocate from the U.S. to a small town in England. A gift from their caretaker awaits Holly when she arrives: an antique key that hums with secret power and, she soon discovers, opens doorways to other worlds. Soon Holly, her brother, and their new friend Everett are transported to Anglielle, a place very much like medieval England, except that it is also home to magicians, centaurs, shapechangers, and other magical creatures. Holly, who sees herself as someone who “wasn’t very good at anything in particular and ‘didn’t apply herself’ and was a little on the scrawny side,” discovers that she is an “Adept” and that her key is a magic wand. The magical beings are being hunted by tyrannical King Reynard, and only Holly can save them. Anglielle and its magic are fairly generic, but Caterer is especially good at creating believable children in all of their human imperfections. The book’s pace is sprightly, and Holly’s adventures are exciting without being too scary. Ages 8–12. Agent: Chris Richman, Upstart Crow Literary (Apr.)
"In her debut novel, Caterer quickly builds a fantasy that involves time travel and switching identities as Holly,
Ben, and their new friend Everett enter a tree, using Holly’s key, and find themselves identified as enemy
agents by a fantasy analog of thirteenth-century England. Magic creatures, realistic human emotions, and
the children’s very different personalities are well knit into a rich drama that lasts the full summer."
"Caterer is especially good at creating believable children in all of their human imperfections. The book’s pace is sprightly, and Holly’s adventures are exciting without being too scary."
"In her debut novel, Caterer quickly builds a fantasy that involves time travel and switching identities as Holly, Ben, and their new friend Everett enter a tree, using Holly’s key, and find themselves identified as enemy agents by a fantasy analog of thirteenth-century England. Magic creatures, realistic human emotions, and the children’s very different personalities are well knit into a rich drama that lasts the full summer."
Filled with swordfights, spells, and an endearing cast of creatures, Holly’s journey makes for a rousing adventure. Chronicles of Narnia fans will rally around this debut fantasy novel and ask for the forthcoming sequel.
“A fun-filled read… a solid fantasy in the classic tradition. The multi-threaded narrative offers a variety of young heroes for readers to root for, and it’s jam-packed with memorable secondary characters of the magical sort, like sleek leogryffs, tricky fairies, and a talking cat.”
Excessive length dilutes this fantasy adventure. Holly lives "on a block of identical houses," in an American town where "[e]veryone bought clothes at the same mall." Woefully bored, she dreams about "lives she d[oes]n't lead." Then her parents pack up the family and take Holly and younger brother Ben to the English village of Hawkesbury, where their rental cottage's mysterious caretaker/landlord gives Holly an iron key. Using the key to open a door in a tree, Holly, Ben and local boy Everett venture into an alternate realm resembling the Hawkesbury countryside but stocked with (way too many) fantasy creatures and dialects. In Anglielle--which is vaguely medieval in the vein of so many fantasy novels--Ben's hand-held video game and asthma inhaler still work, but Holly's key transforms into a magic wand, and there's a hostile king and prince. Caterer's plot has sturdy bones (Ben and Everett are imprisoned in a castle; Holly attempts various rescues), but the likable protagonists' challenges are too easily overcome, and their supposedly huge mistakes oddly inconsequential. These combine with the tale's meandering length to create a watery result. Efforts are too drawn out, indistinct and laden with destiny (Holly "knew the Old Tongues, somehow") to seem quite meaningful. A Sauron-like figure lurks as an overlay for later in the series, never coming into play. Fine enough as fantasy goes--but there are better. (Fantasy. 8-12)