But I hate the creepy spirits and this creepy place – Porter
12 year old Porter is Kotalla kan, the Gatekeeper’s son, currently in training to take his mother’s place as the Gatekeeper in due course, to guard the portal between Pericael and our world. An awesome responsibility, according to Porter’s mother, the grandchild of a powerful Pericael shamen who found his way through the Gate decades ago. But Porter doesn’t think so – he’d rather play soccer and take his science tests than learn how to harness his ranja (magical energy) and summon spirits in Pericael. Who can blame him? Pericael is a terrifying place, with a hot humid climate, unpalatable food, and lots of monsters that emerge from the jungle at sundown. The spirits themselves can be friend or foe, save you or destroy you, and Porter, terrified of the spirits, the place, the huge responsibility, and the dangers of misusing ranja, doesn’t want the honour.
When an urgent knocking on the gate between our world and Pericael summons Porter and his hapless cousin Ames to help save a village from the evil shamen Raspurn, Porter finds himself unwillingly drawn into what looks like a hopeless battle against a fearsome opponent, who threatens to destroy not only Pericael but Porter’s world as well. It looks like it’s up to Porter, who hasn’t been paying attention to his ranja lessons, with the help of sisters Conri and Fira, to protect Ames and save both worlds.
This is an exciting, action-packed story, hugely imaginative, with brilliant world-building and great characters. It’s billed as upper middle grade horror, and while I would deem it horror-fantasy, that is not to diminish the monsters or the threat and danger in the story.
The world is immersive and I loved the magic system – I am ready to get a stick and draw a spell ring on the ground and add whatever is necessary to summon the spirits. Ranja, the magical energy to draw spell rings to summon spirits, can be used – or abused. The dreadful Raspurn forces spirits to do his will, the Gatekeeper (and the other good guys) work with the spirits, although there is always the danger of losing yourself to them.
The stakes are very high – Raspurn sweeps through Pericael, wreaking death and destruction. If he gets to our world, totally defenseless against his magic, he will become unbeatable. Porter and Ames, accidentally flung through a portal to the far side of Pericael, have a race against time to get back to protect the Gate to their home – and every step of their way is a battle against the forces of evil. Fortunately they have help from a daughter of and shamen-in-training Conri. Even better is her over-looked younger sister Fira. With her feistiness, bravery, and abilities, Fira is an out-standing character and my absolute favourite in the book. Her sister is also an engaging character, and Ames, totally unflappable regardless of what befalls him, is a good contrast. Porter is likeable too as the reluctant hero who must decide whether to embrace his role as Gatekeeper in waiting or pass the baton to his cousin. Having spent a few days in Pericael, I know which I’d pick!
As always with a good story, there are themes of doing the right thing, regardless of the cost, knowing your limitations and accepting help, and not letting fear hold you back. It is of course a story of growing up.
A fast-paced engaging story, set amid the terrible dangers of a frightening world, with a brilliant magic system and great characters, is not to be missed by anyone who loves fantasy or adventure.
TOTP says 10 diamonds out of 10