Verdict: Hints of beloved fantasy throwbacks and tons of excitingly one-of-a-kind ideas coalesce into an impressive, unmissable fantasy adventure in WHERE DRAGONWOOFS SLEEP AND THE FADING CREEPS.
Misfit young teens become dreamland heroes in A.J. Massey’s assured, rewarding debut novel. Ben, Avery, and Marcus are three strangers who each face their own battles in everyday life, but lately, when they go to sleep, they’ve been waking up in a creative fantasy world with a few problems of its own. In the realm of Meridia, where elves are an endangered species and crystal automatons serve a queen in a glass castle, a mysterious threat called The Fading looms large. As they make their way across the fantastical landscapes of Meridia, the three heroes discover strange creatures, dangerous magical weather, and plenty of epic tasks that require their bravery, teamwork, and grammatical accuracy.
Modern authors have a nearly impossible task when creating a fully developed, unique magical world that doesn’t feel derivative of past epics, but Massey easily rises to this challenge and beyond in WHERE DRAGONWOOFS SLEEP AND THE FADING CREEPS. The elements of Meridia are breathtakingly original and impressively cohesive, all while still managing to fondly bring to mind the fantasy works of Jim Henson and Hayao Miyazaki. Adult nostalgia–for the open-minded magic of childhood and these warm, rich adventure stories that often come with it–is only a minor fraction of this odyssey, which also continually and surprisingly ties back to real world problems facing modern kids. Bullying, poverty, neglect, and social pressure are all addressed sympathetically, realistically, and without once missing the mark or becoming overwrought in the way that adult-penned “issue” stories so often can. As with many classic coming-of-age stories, the kids are clever, while adults from their perspective are often frustrating, inattentive, or clueless. The parents aren’t all villains, but they’re aloof enough for the narrative to let the kids captain their own adventures.
Cinematic, funny, and ultimately emotional, DRAGONWOOFS is written with clean and direct prose that is engrossing from start to finish. The book is intended for middle grade readers, and includes some serious themes, but it’s a can’t-miss for the kids who are old enough to comprehend its central story of perseverance, or even adults who crave fresh fantasy adventures. The ending plants seeds for a sequel, and one would be welcome, but the book would also serve as potent, impressive teen fantasy as a standalone story.
Hints of beloved fantasy throwbacks and tons of excitingly one-of-a-kind ideas coalesce into an impressive, unmissable fantasy adventure in WHERE DRAGONWOOFS SLEEP AND THE FADING CREEPS.
~Valerie Ettenhofer for IndieReader