Charlie Keeper is a 13-year-old girl who is feisty and a tomboy. She lives in a large, rambling house with her much-loved grandmother who has Alzheimer’s. Her parents inexplicably disappeared seven years earlier. An odious family lawyer named Crow is a regular visitor.
One day the house is invaded by dark spirits called Shades. Though she doesn’t know it they are hunting for a pendant Charlie was given by her parents. She meets a strange, green-skinned creature called Jensen who will help her resist the Shades. Jensen helps Charlie find her way into an alternative universe named Bellania. The rest of this bulky yarn – a fantasy bildungsroman – is devoted to Charlie’s search for own identity, the nature of her quest and the whereabouts of her parents.
The narrative pace is, for the most part, sufficient to keep the reader’s interest. The chapters are very brief, easing the attention span required of the reader. The characterisation is effective. The reader is soon aligned as an ally of Charlie and her cause. The lawyer Crow is effectively established as a moral weakling who aligns himself with the evil Lady Narcissa, a lapsed member of Bellania’s ruling circle.
The Tremen, who are the inhabitants of Bellania, have a distinctive way of speaking, saying ‘wot’ for ‘what’ and ‘dis’ for ‘this’. The reader is constantly searching in the context for guidance: do these variances indicate class distinction or racial distinction? This unanswered question manages to pose an interesting open-ended debate in the reader’s mind.
There was for this reader at least one thoroughly unsatisfactory feature of Alexander’s book. With over 400 pages in which to contrive a suitable finale, the book ends with total abruptness as Charlie is facing yet another test. Presumably the aim of writer and publisher is to whet the reader’s appetite for a sequel. But they risk alienating the readers of this book in the process. My sentiment as I closed the book was irritation.