Holly Race’s debut novel is a complex, inventive fantasy adventure that builds suspense and holds our attention as much through its examination of its characters’ inner motivation and self-understanding as it does through its scenes of action and perilous heroism. Fern King’s mother died when Fern and her twin brother Ollie were just babies. Her death was sudden and unexplained, at least in this world; we readers know that she was actually killed in a dream mirror world to our own and by a terrifying monster. Fern too wakes up in this strange world when she turns fifteen, by which point she has been scarred both physically and emotionally by bullies who can sense her otherness. She has also become estranged from Ollie who she thinks betrayed her when she needed him most and resents him too for his easy popularity. In Annwn, the dream world, however, she finds that despite her best efforts she’s not an outsider and becomes part of a very special community. Trained to be a knight and to protect dreamers in their vulnerable state, she experiences the joy and peace that comes with finding both your place and something worthwhile to do.
Unfortunately, Annwn is still in danger from the foe who destroyed Fern’s mother: interestingly, a politician in the real world, with a powerful ability to enthrall his followers, even though there is no substance whatsoever to his promises.
The world of Annwn will intrigue fans of fantasy and Race does well to create an original setting for her story while also drawing on a range of world myths and legends. In Fern, Ollie and their friends and rivals she has created a set of characters whose thoughts and feelings will matter as much to readers as do their magical abilities. This is book one in a trilogy and Race is an author to watch.