Author: Travis M. Riddle
Publisher: CreateSpace (Independent Publishing Platform)
Publication Date: January 17, 2017
Links: Goodreads | Amazon
Quick Summary: Miles falls asleep in his bed in Austin, Texas, and wakes up in a swamp, in another world, with some really weird creatures he’s never seen or heard of before. What starts off as a trek to get back home becomes quite an adventure for Miles, as he encounters a beast from another world, just like him, and discovers that he has magic of his own. And the key to those powers? His memories of life in his own world, ones that he may or may not want to face himself.
Interesting and Unique Magic Mechanic Meets Heartbreaking Memories from a Child’s POV
A bit of background here: aside from Young Adult books, I also adore Middle Grade ones because I feel that Middle Grade books are either fun as all hell, or hold a lot of universal truths that we might have forgotten as adults, and in such an emotional, hard-hitting way. So is it really weird that most of the books I cried over and that have stayed with me are middle grade books?
Thus, when the author approached me to read and review his book, I was immediately enchanted by the mechanic of Miles’ magic. I’ve never encountered a book with magic that’s tied to memories, and I believed there was so much potential (and heartbreak) to be had and explored with. I was excited and prepared to dive into this book, tissues and all.
I’m pleased to say that there were difficult issues addressed in this book. Miles, before getting teleported to the strange, fantasy world, had been struggling with his parent’s upcoming divorce. And to top it all off, his grandmother just died. It’s easy for me to get all emotional over deaths of grandmothers–and yes, I bawled my eyes out during Moana. I had been very close to my grandmother and when she died, I felt that little something inside me disappear as well, and I can definitely relate to anyone who’s lost a beloved grandparent. So one of my favorite heartbreaking moments of the books, unsurprisingly, were the ones wherein Miles had to confront his memories of his grandmother despite how scared and sad it made him.
I also liked the way the flashbacks were written in. In some instances I got a bit confused at the transitions, but those were rare and mostly the flashbacks melded seamlessly with the present scenes. I imagine it like in a movie or game, wherein the protagonist is walking and then suddenly they encounter an event that’s oddly similar to something in the past, and then it flashbacks to said event in the past. That Miles’ memories were the key to his magic was an interesting concept too, and I liked how each emotion elicited by certain memories were the key to what type of element Miles could create.
Miles also has mysophobia, which intrigued me because how would a little boy struggle through a journey through a fantasy world with his phobia? The first few chapters detailing his feelings about his fear was well-done, I think, and I was rooting for him to win and return home.
The first act was strong; it dove right into the action and introduced us to the fantasy world that Miles had been thrust into. I liked the first friendly character Miles came across, Mortimer, a frog-like humanoid with a cheery and caring attitude and who, for some reason, spoke French. When they escape from the encampment they were held in and journey back to Mortimer’s home, I’m introduced to an aspect of Mortimer’s life that was utterly heartbreaking and probably one of my favorite moments in the book. It seemed like the novel was heading in the right direction and that I’d learn more about the characters and love them all by the time I reach the end of Miles’ story.
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Meandering Scenes & Unnecessary Dialogue
After the first few promising chapters, the story began to meander a bit. Miles gets to I-forgot-what-the-hell-that-place-was-even-called, he meets Mortimer’s wife, he goes to training and then by the time he gets kidnapped I wanted to throw my Kindle away because at least that would have been mildly entertaining. The initial excitement I had for the book had dwindled, and scenes like the one where Miles tries to escape and gets caught again anyway just confused me because why add that scene if it did nothing to progress the novel? I didn’t gain any new information about Miles’ character, the other characters, or the plot. Same goes for many conversations, especially after the kidnapping. They were just there.
Aside from those many scenes and conversations that are just there, Miles’ narration was dragging. He would narrate what he’s going to do in his mind, why he thinks doing so would be best, why he thinks the other strategies won’t work, and only then will he finally go out and do it, which I found boring and repetitive. Take note, a lot of these were in action scenes. Action scenes that I skipped over.
By around 3/4 of the book I was skimming. I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore and I just wanted to get it over with.
Little to No Character Development
I have a confession to make: I can forgive glaring plotholes, weak world-building, and meandering scenes if I love the characters. I’ve read numerous books to the end and enjoyed them because of the life the characters gave to it. In fact my favorite novel, Les Miserables, is notorious for going in tangents because man did Victor Hugo love to rant for chapters and chapters about France’s social issues. But I stayed with it because I adored the characters, especially the lovestruck, Imma-be-a-rebel-but-really-I’m-just-a-dork, Bonapartist-speech-ranter Marius Pontmercy.
But there wasn’t any more to Miles or Mortimer, or any other character for that matter, and I felt disappointed with the lack of multi-dimensional characters. It’s not even the case of “but it’s a middle-grade book”, because a lot of middle-grade books I’ve read had multi-dimensional characters. To name a few: The Percy Jackson series, A Monster Calls, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like rooting for Miles and the only times I felt a mild connection with him was when he was having his flashbacks. He did grow, though, in that he confronted his feelings about his parents and the death of his grandmother, but I felt that there could have been more to it than that.
Lack of Emotional Connection and Lackluster Ending
I felt that the book could have done more emotionally. The potential to delve deeper into Miles’ thoughts and feelings was there but, except in some instances, it fell short. I suppose it’s because I couldn’t connect to the writing itself. There are ways certain authors weave the right words that even a simple sentence or two can gut me. I was yearning for lines such as, “Open your heart. Someone will come. Someone will come for you. But first you must open your heart.” That line is from The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo and to this day is one of my favorite quotes found in a middle-grade book. Unfortunately, if asked for a quote from Wondrous, I’m afraid I couldn’t give any.
By the end I still hadn’t gotten my explanation as to why Miles had been thrown into a fantasy world in the first place. I also thought the monster from another world was something more profound than just “some creature from another world” and I had been looking forward to what it symbolized or what it was in relation to Miles, since they were both not from the fantasy world after all. When I was reading the last few chapters I convinced myself that the creature was a physical manifestation of Miles’ inner pain and suffering, the “monster” he’s been carrying ever since his grandmother died and his parents got a divorce, and to get back to his world he must defeat this demon and come to terms with his feelings. That didn’t happen, though, and it disappointed me to find out that the creature was just some random creature from another world and nothing more than that.
Most importantly, Miles’ mysophobia just disappeared all of a sudden just because he kept getting exposed to dirt and germs, I guess? I don’t have mysophobia so I can’t speak on behalf of those who do have it, and I’ve read that desensitization is one of the treatments prescribed to help people with mysophobia. But is it possible without a trained therapist guiding Miles? I’m not sure, admittedly, so if anyone has insight on to how they struggle with mysophobia please do comment down below and let me know, and only if you want to, of course!
Overall: Great Ideas & Strong Start, but Mediocre Conclusion
This book isn’t even close to the worst indie book I’ve read. I actually think the writing was okay, despite the lack of any memorable quotes, and that it had a strong, solid beginning. The magic system was one of the more unique ones I’ve read and it had a lot of potential, and I did like some scenes from Miles’ memories. But the characters weren’t anything special and the book felt several chapters too long. That, and the ending that just fell flat, is why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected and wanted to.
My Rating: (2.5 / 5)
Disclaimer: The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
As a reader, what about a book wins you over: the plot, the world-building, or the characters? Is there an aspect of a book that you can live without (e.g.: I can live with weak world-building if the book has memorable, complex characters)? Let me know in the comments below!