In TALES FROM ARA I: INTO THE UNKNOWN, a romance writer, Harlette, returns from a meeting with her publisher and is unexpectedly sucked through a mirror (along with her female cat, Bernard) into Nimrod, an elven kingdom. She’s promptly captured by Karayan, the king, the most dazzlingly handsome man she’s ever seen. Initially held as a prisoner in the palace, Harlette manages to accompany Karayan on adventures throughout the world of Ara, including climbing a beanstalk into the kingdom of some giants. Meanwhile, Harlette’s adoptive sister, Yuka, travels through the mirror into Ara in an attempt to find Harlette. She’s captured by elves and then beset by ogres.
With the exception of Karayan, most of the characters in author Gleem’s lack TALES FROM ARA I not only cunning or subtlety, but even thought. Yuka claims she only wants a life of indolence, and Harlette, while valiant, is extremely naïve. The elves are suspicious of humans, seeing them as bad luck, but Karayan is attracted to Harlette, and she to him—although she lacks confidence in her ability to attract the elven king. Harlette questions why she is on Ara, and so does the reader, as it seems from hints that she has some special qualities and destiny–though these are not revealed at all in this first installment of her adventures. While Harlette is fairly intrepid, she’s also innocent and emotional. Beyond Karayan, the most thoughtful characters are Bernard, the cat (who speaks once they are on Ara) and Goldie, the hen (also speaking) in possession of a golden egg. Bernard keeps warning Harlette not to fall for Karayan, but Harlette is too attracted to the king to follow her cat’s advice. The idea that Harlette has a greater identity and purpose than are revealed in this story is intriguing, but any payoff of this mystery will have to wait until another volume, which is frustrating for the reader. There’s a lot of moving around and new situations in this book, but, in the end, the reader doesn’t know very much. Harlette meets another prince, Amando, and considers staying with him in his ruined kingdom instead of accompanying Karayan back to his palace. Whatever she decides, it seems obvious that her connection with Karayan is far from ending.
The world created in this novel is imaginative and lively, and the author describes the scenery with enough detail that the reader can envision the setting. The story is unexpected–there’s no telling, for example, what Harlette, Karayan, and their companions will find at the top of the beanstalk they climb. Ultimately, though, one wonders what the long episode among the indolent giants really contributes to the narrative. And it’s frustrating that so many questions have to wait for another volume to be answered.
TALES FROM ARA I: Into the Unknown is an imaginative, somewhat rambling tale set in Ara–a world immersively described by the author–detailing the adventures of Harlette, a romance novelist from Earth.
~Elizabeth Jewell for IndieReader