Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: The Bell Between Worlds


The Bell Between Worlds by Ian Johnstone
The Mirror Chronicles #1
Publication Date: June 6th 2013 by Harper Collins Children's

Sylas Tate leads a lonely existence since his mother died. But then the tolling of a giant bell draws him into another world known as the Other, where he discovers not only that he has an inborn talent for magic, but also that his mother might just have come from this strange parallel place. Meanwhile, evil forces are stirring, and an astounding revelation awaits Sylas: that the Other is a mirror of our world, and every person here has their counterpart there, known as a Glimmer. As violence looms and the stakes get higher, Sylas must seek out his Glimmer, and unite the two halves of his soul – otherwise the entire universe may fall...

A glorious epic fantasy in the grand tradition of C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman, and a major publishing event, The Mirror Chronicles will take you into another world, and on the adventure of your lifetime…
*An ARC was provided by Harper Collins UK Children's in exchange for an honest review.*

When a book gets compared to big name works and titles that have come before it, it can really be a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it gives the reader an idea what kind of story to expect and it can get people's attention where they might not have gravitated towards a certain book otherwise. On the other hand though, comparisons set the bar pretty high - sometimes, impossibly so.  When I stumbled upon The Bell Between Worlds, I was intrigued right away.  Just by the cover, you can tell that it's children or middle-grade high fantasy - which we all know I love.  Then, reading the blurb as you probably did just now, I became simultaneously giddy & terrified.  C.S. Lewis & Philip Pullman are both beyond epic in their own rights as the authors of the Narnia Series & His Dark Materials respectively.  Could The Mirror Chronicles really hold it's own among such heavy-weights?  After reading The Bell Between Worlds I can easily say that it did for me - and then some!

The Bell Between Worlds is the first installment in The Mirror Chronicles and it introduces us to a world so richly imagined & so completely fresh that it was hard to believe that this was author Ian Johnstone's first book.  In The Bell Between Worlds, we're introduced to Sylas Tate - a very lonely young boy in the care of his uncle since his mother passed away some years before.  Sylas's life hasn't been easy but he's managed to make the most of it thanks to his inane imagination & creativity.  Then, on a day like any other, Sylas discovers a strange new little shop selling a variety of oddities and  'things'; little treasures that stir the imagination and seem almost magical.  And the wizened shopkeeper, Mr.Zhi seems to know an awful lot about Sylas...he even hints that he believes Sylas will embark on an adventure of his own soon.  Before long, something seriously magical does happen; through a truly incredible and kind of scary set of circumstances, Sylas travels to an 'other' world.  A world that is very similar to our own but also strikingly different because in this world, real magic exists.  It is in this 'other' world that Sylas will embark the quest of a lifetime!

There are a few things I look for in children's/middle-grade fantasy.  World building is probably one of the biggest determining factors in fantasy reads of all ages to be honest so let's start there.  In children's/m-g fantasy, I like the descriptions of a magical new world to be rich and vivid without weighing the story down - simple but effective.  This may sound pretty do-able but in reality, it's not an easy task to achieve. To me, The Bell Between Worlds accomplished it wonderfully.  The way this 'other' world is introduced is equal parts inventive, awe-inspiring and exciting.  I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat as it all unfolded before my eyes with a huge smile on my face!  The end result is wholly unique and from that point on, I was hooked.

Once Sylas had crossed over into 'the Other', I continued to be impressed by the beautiful descriptions and the magical world as it unfolded before my eyes. I felt that the magical system itself was really original and chock-full of potential. The characters were diverse and likeable - it was easy to feel for them and understand Sylas' desire to not only get to know them all but also to help them out. And that's the kind of protagonist Sylas is.  Beyond his imagination and wit, he's also inclined to want to listen others, to understand and to try and help in any way he can.  It's hard for someone like me not to connect an MC who's best trait is his imagination but Sylas is much more than that - and the more I got to know him, the more I wanted to spend time with him!  His choice in friends once he crossed into 'the Other' only sweetened the deal; they ranged from funny, mysterious and even conflicted but they all had one thing in common: a perfect mix of bravery and hope.

The dark side of this magical world was pretty creeptastic right from the word go. Sylas is being hunted but he soon finds out that this whole world is pretty much under a reign of terror brought on by some sort of age-old and horribly powerful being and his army of hellish hound creatures.  Throughout the book, you're always reminded that nowhere is safe, those hounds can smell out anything and anyone and they.are.everywhere.  The best part of it was that it seemed like we got a lot of information on the villains but since this is the first book, I can only expect that we'll be learning a lot more.  I love it when authors take time to fully develop both sides of the spectrum, only because it makes the story feel more balanced to me.  And I'm big on balance >.<

The Bell Between Worlds was a surprising, promising and exciting debut from author Ian Johnstone and I am already eager to get my hands on the sequel. There were a few details I'd hope would have been fleshed out a bit more before the end but it seemed obvious to me that they will be addressed in the next book(s).  The ending was a bit abrupt too but when I read the final words I already knew I would be tagging along for however many more adventures Sylas needs to go on.  I think the best part for me was that despite the fact that it is indeed in the same vein as stories like Narnia & His Dark Materials, The Bell Between Worlds didn't have any preachy underlying religious themes.  There were solid life lessons and good morals instilled in here but it was done with a light touch and in very good taste.  The Mirror Chronicles promises to be an addictive and compelling series for the young and young at heart!

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

14 comments:

  1. You're right. It can be so dangerous to compare books to ones that are so popular. I'm glad it worked out in this case. It sounds really good. I don't normally read MG, but maybe I'll pick this one up sometime. Great review!

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    1. Usually when I see those kinds of comparisons, I'm EXTRA cautions. This time it definitely worked out though :) Thanks for stopping by Natalie!!

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  2. This sounds fantastic. I love that there is a creepy dark side!

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    1. Yeah and this is just book 1 so I imagine we'll get deeper glimpses into the dark side as the series moves along!

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  3. I love the cover for this, and it seems like an excellent start to a new series! I'm completely of the same mind as you are on world-building in MG fantasy books- I don't like it when the world becomes the focus and overshadows the story and the characters. But, this book sounds like it got the world-building exactly right. Have to add this to my TBR list! :D

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    1. Exactly! You don't want to get bogged down in the details but at the same time you want to be able to REALLY imagine the world...and then move on the the characters and plot. I really had fun with this one and I'd definitely be curious to see how you'd like it Lee :D

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  4. Wow! What high praise! Good to know the comparisons weren't made in vain. I feel like I absolutely have to read this one. Sometimes the best fantasy novels are the middle grade ones. And I'm so excited for this one now.

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    1. haha awesome, I'm glad to hear it Nori! I agree, middle grade fantasy holds a special place in my heart too ♥ Hope you'll enjoy this one as much as I did :)

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  5. Hey, how have I not heard of this one yet? Because it's truly right up my alley, too. The way you describe this one, it has the makings of a very special and memorable read and that is SO exciting to me. I can definitely see it fitting in with the best of the MG fantasies because it sounds like it has all the elements necessary (like the wonderful world building and characters and interesting villains) to make it one. Eee how exciting!! And to think I had never even heard of this before now. Thanks for the excellent review, Mich!!

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    1. Ooooh, I hope you'll enjoy this one as much as I did Aylee! I had never heard about it either until I saw it on NG...I hit request so fast! hahah then I got a little worried because of the comparisons to Narnia & HDM but it turned out really impressing me!

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  6. I'd never heard of this one, but I'll definitely be adding it to GR as soon as I leave her. Like you, in middle grade, I think I look for world building a lot more than in YA or adult. I just don't bond to kids the same way I do with older characters, so I expect to be wowed with the imagination, you know? So glad you reviewed this so I could hear about it!

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    1. Well it's harder to bond with kids as intensely as you would with older characters because they usually don't have the emotional depth to bring all the feels. So yeah, the imagination parts need to BRING IT to make up for that. I'm glad you're going to check it out and I can't wait to read your thoughts!

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  7. I almost requested this on Netgalley. It sounds so awesome!! I am glad that it lived up to your expectations. I love it when the descriptions are done well and you can really get lost in the world. I am going to have to get this one!! It really sounds fabulous!!

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    1. Oooh maybe you can still request it?! Either way I hope you can get your hands on this one soon...and that you'll enjoy it as much as I did :)

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