Posted on Kirkus Review, June 6, 2017
A middle-grade debut novel tells the story of a girl torn between her native dream world and an alien reality.
Fourteen-year-old Remmi Clearwater works as a drone in the Cavern Lands of Penumbra. Her masters think that they have mind-drained away her magical talents, but Remmi retains them, keeping them hidden as she plots her escape. Penumbra is in Dreamearth, the fantastic parallel world to Realearth. Realearth visitors only enter Dreamearth in their dreams. Remmi’s ability to create illusions—to disguise herself by temporarily taking on a different form—comes from the fact that she is a Halfling, born to a Dreamearth mother and a Realearth father. Such offspring are feared for their unpredictable powers: “They can manipulate the surroundings and even hurl people great distances with just a thought. They’ve even been known to cross over into Realearth and convince people they were blasted gods.” Remmi manages to flee Penumbra and put her magic to use elsewhere in the Dreamearth tourism industry while still attempting to uncover the secret of her origins—and the fates of her parents. Despite people’s opinions of Halflings, when a cataclysm threatens Dreamearth, Remmi may be the only one who can save it. Robb tells her story with a sense of fun and wonder that is so often missing from contemporary fantasy. Her prose is elegantly simple, conjuring wondrous images: “Not ordinary clouds, as I’d often seen from the ground. These appeared to be animals with thick, cottony fleeces. Like clouds, they faintly resembled a variety of creatures.” The author treats the plot seriously even as the world in which it is set—with place names like the Archetypal Sea and the Collective Unconsciousness Forest—winks at the reader. The result is reminiscent of the Oz stories of L. Frank Baum: the reader becomes emotionally invested in the characters while still enjoying the frivolity of the setting. Standard tropes of the genre abound, but there is an originality to the premise and vision that keeps the story fresh. The ending, in particular, is unexpectedly affecting.
A riveting, old-fashioned fantasy tale with a resilient heroine.