Verdict: A fun story mingling real life and fantasy for early teens.
Fourteen-year-old Ambril Derwyn is moving again for the ninth time in almost as many years. Both she and her older brother Zane heartily dislike their soon-to-be step-father, Feldez Petri, whose new house is waiting for them in Trelawnyd, a small town far from their San Francisco home.
The family is making a clean break with the past and putting all their old furniture in storage, as it won’t look good in the new house. “New furniture! New clothes! New life!” her mother exclaims. As the movers wrestle with a cabinet, a small box falls out and hits Ambril on the head. She shows it to Chinese herbalist Chao Feng who explains that it is a puzzle box and helps her open one of its compartments, where they find a jeweled medallion. “Guard it well,” Chao Feng tells her.
On the way to their new home, Zane and his mother argue. He wants his mother to tell Ambril why they left the town eleven years before and how their father died. When Zane jumps from the van and runs into the forest their mother follows and Ambril is left alone. An explosion rocks the van and smoke billowing above the forest changes into a demon that chases Ambril through the forest; she is rescued by a monster-eating tree and a walking house.
This is Ambril’s introduction into Trelawnyd’s ancient and now forbidden history. The magical and mundane are deftly mixed throughout the book with some enchanting results, among them a neglected garden truly run wild and grumpy garden gnomes.
At its heart, this is a coming-of-age story of a teenager investigating a corrosive family secret. Left mostly to her own devices, as her mother turns to Feldez and Zane to the cool kids, Ambril finds friends among the school outcasts. But the magic she is unleashing is dangerous and the book ends abruptly with Ambril in mortal peril. Although she often seems younger than fourteen, Ambril is a sympathetic character. Readers who care about her will can read Book Two, scheduled for release September 2012, to find out what happens next.
Reviewed by Brid Nowlan for IndieReader
Purchase Ambril's Tale, The Return of the Dullaith (Volume 1) from Amazon