Friday, August 4, 2017

Scarlet and the Keepers of Light (Brandon Charles West)

Scarlet and the Keepers of Light
(The Scarlet Hopewell series, Volume 1)
Brandon Charles West
Manor Minor Press
Fiction, MG Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: As long as she could remember, Scarlet Hopewell has dreamed of a magical world, a city of light beneath a giant oak, where she and her family are welcomed and honored... but they're just dreams. At least, that's what she always thought. Then, one night, a trio of shadow-wrapped strangers arrive at the Hopewell house - and Dakota, her faithful dog, starts speaking, telling the family to run. Suddenly, somehow, Scarlet's dreams are coming true. She and her family are in a fairy world. But there's a shadow her dreams didn't reveal, a threat that everyone expects her to face - one that endangers not just the magical realm, but her own.

REVIEW: I wavered on the rating for a while. The story starts quickly, and if the setup's a bit familiar, it still managed to draw me in, with an interesting world and intriguing characters. I liked the light magic and other descriptions, and not everything is quite as it seems, lending some refreshing depth to the adventure. But some little issues started nagging at me as I read on. Scarlet's whole family makes the trip with her, but they start to feel thin and, especially in the case of her mother, useless and a touch cliche, with little to do for much of the story (though her firefighter father hovers over her, the sort of protector figure that heroines in middle-grade fantasies generally shouldn't need.) Several elements that started out intriguing became relegated to clutter by the end, actually. For instance, the "dog" Dakota (formerly the Lord of Wolves) manages to teach the family pet Cricket to talk, recruiting him as an ally in defending the Hopewells from the forces of darkness... but very little comes of this lesson, as Cricket becomes a mostly-forgotten footnote. The writing has a way of drifting between characters mid-scene, a subtly distracting irritation. Still, it hooked me into the story, and kept me reading... until it came to an ending that felt like a forced twist for the sake of a cliffhanger, enough so that I'm debating whether I want to continue with the series or leave it hanging on that somewhat unsatisfying note.
When Scarlet and the Keepers of Light works, it works well... but there are just enough odd bumps and loose parts, magnified by the abrupt and unresolved ending, to barely hold it back from a solid four-star Good rating. Younger readers will likely enjoy it more, though they, too, might wish a little more had come from the talking dogs and other hooks.

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