Saturday, March 1, 2008

Elizabeth Kay

The Divide
by Elizabeth Kay
Recommended Age: 11+

Felix Sanders is – well, face it. He’s dying. He could go at any time. But he doesn’t want to go without seeing a bit of the world, so his parents take him to Costa Rica. And there, at the top of the divide between the Atlantic and Pacific watershed, they lose him.

This is, of course, sad for Felix’s parents, but not so bad for Felix – who finds himself not in the afterlife, but in a turned-around world where science is the stuff of fairy tales, and magic rules everyday life. Felix himself is a mythical creature, along with all the zoo animals and livestock of our world; the world beyond the divide is populated by elves, pixies, brownies, dragons, griffins, and unicorns – only by other names, such as tanglefolk, japegrins, and brazzles.

Even in this colorful, magic-filled world, there does not seem to be a cure for Felix’s terminal heart condition. But on the slim chance that they might find one in the writings of a long-dead brazzle, Felix and his new friends – the tangle-girl Betony and the mathematical brazzle Ironclaw – set out for the royal library in the faraway city of Andria. Along the way, they are menaced by shadow beasts, caught up in a complex web of sinister plots, and targeted by the slimiest villain in the land: Snakeweed.

Soon, Felix takes on a hero’s role in an adventure that involves prejudice, unethical drug testing, freedom of the press, an innocent man accused of murder, organized crime, shape-changing assassins, free will, marital conflict, advertising, and a dancing contest. Felix tries to keep a good attitude about all this, but it’s cruel how every time he begins to accept that he must die, an elusive hope is held up again.

Will his last hope come through before time runs out? Will his parents see him again? And when they do get him back, will they only have to lose him all over again? These are the questions that Felix faces. It takes a courageous boy to face them. And the answers lie at the end of a complex, magical adventure.

Back to the Divide
by Elizabeth Kay
Recommended Age: 11+

In this sequel to The Divide, Felix’s parents are thrilled to have him back, alive and well, after his disappearance in Costa Rica when he was supposed to be dying of a heart condition that had mysteriously disappeared when he reappeared. They believe that Felix wandered off the path they were hiking, lost himself in the jungle, and then lost his memory of what had happened to him when he found himself again.

What really happened is that Felix traveled to another world, where science is the stuff of fantasy, and where magic is part of real life. After achieving adventure and fame as a mythical being in a world full of elf-like tanglefolk, pixyish japegrins, and griffinesque brazzles, Felix was magically cured and sent back across the interdimensional “Divide” to where he belonged. Only, someone else made it across as well – an evil japegrin named Snakeweed.

A year later, Snakeweed is ready to go back to his own world, armed with scientific knowledge that will completely change his world...and put him in a position to rule it. Snakeweed attacks Felix’s parents, turning them into stone, and forces Felix to give him the spell to get back across the Divide. Felix pursues him, hoping to stop Snakeweed from destroying the magical world with environment-unfriendly science, and hunting for a cure to the marble spell that could spread from his parents to endanger the whole world.

Once again, Felix meets up with his friends Betony, Ironclaw, and others. They get involved in a complicated adventure full of criss-crossing plot lines. It involves a journey across a vast desert, to speak with a ravenous, riddle-obsessed sphinx. They cross paths with a magic carpet, a djinn, some vampire bat thingies, and other nasties, while Snakeweed and his evil minions seize control of the government, the press, and the library. Mathematical puzzles, political maneuvers, battles, narrow escapes, tragedies, a robbery and a kidnapping happen while a bouncing baby brazzle is born, a servile henchman grasps free will, and a traffic violation results in a death sentence for Felix and Betony...

Don’t worry. The trilogy continues with Jinx on the Divide.

Jinx on the Divide
by Elizabeth Kay
Recommended Age: 11+

The third book in The Divide trilogy begins with the Christmas present Felix has been waiting for: a visit from his best friend from the magical world across the Divide, the tangle-girl Betony. Things don’t go as planned, however. A forgotten brass lamp finds its way into Felix’s school bag, and before he knows it, a genie (or rather, brandee) has escaped, taken the school bully hostage, and demanded to be taken to a scientist to be freed from enslavement to the lamp.

Desperate to resolve the situation without bringing magic into the world of science, Felix and Betony rush back across the Divide. Things on that side quickly deteriorate, however. Inside the genie’s lamp, flame-haired bully Stephen “Rhino” Rheinhart opens a mischievous jinx box. Maybe “wicked” would be a better word to describe it. The jinx box wants Rhino or Felix – or really, any “mythical being” from the point of view of Betony’s world – to speak a number of power-words aloud. Each word causes something big to happen – something that could potentially destroy everything.

Not saying those power-words isn’t as simple as you might think. The jinx box will do anything within its considerable powers to trick, or force, Felix and Rhino into doing its bidding – and destroying it won’t be easy. Then there’s the recipe for gunpowder, which Rhino foolishly tries to sell to the japegrins; the consequences of unleashing that “science” in their world of magic would be unthinkable.

Meanwhile other plots are afoot. Snakeweed has returned from what was supposed to be a hundred-year slumber. A slave of the lamp who just wants to be free is instead given an override-proof command to execute Rhino. Encounters with deadly wolf-like creatures, wild dragons, interracial issues, and beings released from spells that had turned them to stone create chaos and confusion in the midst of a race against time. And on top of everything, Felix is having feelings toward Betony...including the monster of jealousy. And that’s a feeling that could complicate his decision-making at the climax of the story.

The series definitely comes to an end in this story – a surprisingly satisfying ending, given all the suspense and dread that leads up to it. So ends a quirky, multi-layered fantasy series, which will be remembered at the very least for its unusual cover design – though whether that helps or hinders the book, I will let you decide.

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