Eliyana is used to the shadows. With a birthmark covering half her face, she just hopes to graduate high school unscathed. That is, until Joshua hops a fence and changes her perspective. No one, aside from her mother, has ever treated her like he does: normal. Maybe even beautiful. Because of Joshua, Eliyana finally begins to believe she could be loved. But one night her mother doesn’t come home, and that’s when everything gets weird. Now Joshua is her new, and rather reluctant, legal Guardian. Add a hooded stalker and a Central Park battle to the mix and you’ve gone from weird to otherworldly. Eliyana soon finds herself in a world much larger and more complicated than she’s ever known. A world enslaved by a powerful and vile man. And Eliyana holds the answer to defeating him. How can an ordinary girl, a blemished girl, become a savior when she can’t even save herself?
Eliyana is just a couple weeks away from her eighteenth birthday when she tragically loses her mother, Elizabeth, in a structure fire. Not quite of age, her welfare is strangely left in the hands of best friend and next door neighbor, Joshua, who is only 21 himself. Eliyana has always struggled with fitting in, mostly because of a noticeable facial birthmark covering an entire half of her face. When Joshua came into her life he was the first person (aside from her mother) to treat her normally, dare we say even considered her pretty? But how is he supposed to be the legal guardian to someone so close to his own age? In just a matter of hours, El learns that that question is the least of her worries.
A couple nights after her mother's funeral, El is persuaded to indulge in a night out with a friend. That night turns dangerous when a potential stalking turns into a definite kidnapping. In an attempt to escape, El is caught up in a mess of confusing, questionable sights, one being that of her mother! Turns out that whole death scene was a ruse to protect El. Just as Eliyana is trying to comprehend her mother NOT being dead, Elizabeth is kidnapped. Joshua pops up to explain to El and the reader just what all is going on.
Long story short: Josh is a member of the League of Guardians for one of seven Reflections or alternate realities accessible through Thresholds (think: portal). He was specifically assigned to protect Eliyana as she has something special about her that His Sovereignty, Jasyn Crowe, very much wants. Crowe is a servant of The Void, essence of all evil within The Reflections (something like Star Wars' "The Dark Side"). The Guardians are collectively trying to battle this by recruiting dedicated servants of The Verity (all that is truth, light and goodness). In this battle of good vs. evil, or Era of Shadows as Joshua calls it, Eliyana's birthmark indicates that she may have a most powerful role at the heart of it all. What turns out to be one of the biggest challenges for El is Joshua himself. He acts like a completely different person within this alternate reality El is thrust into... a man that is inexplicably cold and distant. In fact, he transfers the duty of protecting El to a fellow Guardian, Kyaphus (Ky). Multiple times, Ky tries to break it to El that maybe Joshua's "friendship" was just him doing his job but El can't let herself believe that. She's convinced there's more there, just ... for some reason Joshua is forcing himself to deny it. One way or another, she'll have to choose who honestly has her best interests in mind before it's too late to turn back.
There were some things I noticed at the beginning of this novel that had me saying "uh oh, not another one..." Most noticeably, I spotted A LOT of elements that I've seen in various fantasy movies, tv shows and novels in recent years. Sprinkles of Once Upon A Time here and there... at times it felt like I could almost imagine Sara Ella's DVR line up. I'm not saying anything was directly lifted, I'm just saying if you're a fan of the genre, there is a ton of stuff here that you're likely to quickly recognize. First off was the similarities to The Never Ending Story: 1) mother dies 2) teased kid in this world becomes hero in alternate world 3) The Void = The Nothing >>> El has to find vessel of Verity to save world from The Void = Atreyu & Bastian have to stop the spread of the Nothing. Step away from Never Ending Story and you still see likenesses to Star Wars (especially when it came to that almost awkward link between Ky and El... Clueless-esque awkward). El transporting from NYC to the Reflection where she thinks her mother was taken = very 10th Kingdom. Even the tense triangle between Joshua, El and Ky was reminiscent of the Edward, Bella, Jacob business from Twilight -- there's even a blink-and-you-might-miss-it reference to one of the Twilight films. Oh and btw, I myself am totally team Ky throughout this whole book.
A jagged surface doesn't always allude to what truly lies beneath.
So, given that I was spotting all these similarities, I was concerned that this was just going to be a sloppy rehashing of popular fantasy plots from the past. Good news though! This one is a little shaky in the early portions but gets REALLY good after Act III! All the characters here are dynamic with great personalities (healthy doses of snark included) that keep the story moving at a fun pace. While the plot itself can get a little muddled and murky at times, I do think Sara Ella developed her characters admirably well, giving them all noticeable yet reasonable amounts of individual growth... some towards the light, others going dark... as it should be if you want your reader to get heavily invested! ;-)
Peer beyond the surface; you may find there a rose...
As for our protagonist, El, I liked her personality for the majority of the story. My one gripe with her is how she would persistently knock any meat-eater she came across yet she proudly rocked UGG boots. Weirdly though, her harping on this topic seemed to stop halfway through the book... guess everyone just got so caught up in the battle of good and evil there was no longer any time for meal breaks!
So if you're all about any of those stories I mentioned above: Never Ending Story, Star Wars, Twilight, The 10th Kingdom, etc... or if you want to just dip a reading toe into the fantasy genre pool, definitely try out this one. I'm all set to jump into the second book of this series -- I need to know what all's gonna go down if / when Ky returns! -- but sadly Amazon says it won't be available for release until this summer :-(
FTC Disclaimer: Both TNZ Fiction Guild and Book Look Bloggers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.