Hey, everybody! Welcome back to Tumnus’ Bookshelf, the official NarniaFans book reviews where we review any and all books by, about, and inspired by CS Lewis, the Land of Narnia and the Inklings. For today’s review we will be looking at the brand new fantasy novel ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm by Judy Probus!
Somewhere in a world hidden in the space between the Moon and Mars is the world of ImagiNation. Besieged by an evil sorceress Vahdeema and her ally Stonedish II, the world hangs on the brink of war. Their grand objective is simple, defeat the Imperor and rule the galaxy. As the two of them seek the pieces of an ancient artifact that can give them the power to do just that, the wise sage Master Mantis seeks young champions to face this incredible threat.
Sending the dragon Ryuu out into the Solar system, the dragon finds high school senior , and star quarter back Aiden Christopher “Ace” Edwards, his sister Hanna and their brother Trevor, of Mainstream Alabama, USA. Left home alone during fall break, they think the most exciting thing they will have to do is try and weather a massive storm, that is until the dragon arrives. Returning to ImagiNation the Edwards children are accompanied by the beautiful Princess Zenith or Zhii, as they embark on a quest to save the world of ImagiNation from the forces of evil.
ImagiNation Unveiled is a wonderful mix of science fiction and fantasy. Dragons, Pegasuses, trolls, and the like coexist comfortably along side laser guns, energy shields and high tech devices in a sort of “futuristic past”. It’s strange, bizarre, and completely fantastic, like something out of a dream. After all, if this is an alien world that exists between the Moon and Mars who is to say exactly how it can develop?
This book ImagiNation Unveiled is also one of the few fantasy stories that comes to mind, aside from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz , Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet, and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, that features young heroes from America. Fantasy stories from the likes of JM Berrie, Lewis Carrol, E. Nesbit, AA Milne, George MacDonald, CS Lewis, Susan Cooper, and JK Rowling all feature all feel inherently British, to the point you can practically hear Big Ben toll the time. Even Tolkien’s Middle-earth feels British. The Edwards children from Earth in this book hail from a classic all-American small town in Alabama, and the Americana vibe is unshakable. They do not read as Americans as written by a European. Not since Dorothy Gale got swept up in a twister to the merry old Land of Oz has a fantasy story felt so American.
Much as the struggles of the Pevensies were clearly rooted in World War II England, the Edwards children are rooted in recession era USA. Their father is out of work, while their mother is working away from home to make ends meet. Because of this, ImagiNation Unveiled reminds readers just why it is in troubling times we gravitate towards incredible stories set in other worlds, be they sci-fi or fantasy. Not only do we long for just a quick escape from endless bad news, through the struggles of our heroes we learn better how to face our own problems.
As is this case for many worlds of fantasy, like Oz, or a Wrinkle in Time, the departure of these children is preceded by a storm. A mysterious dragon appears in their home and whisks them away to the world of ImagiNation, a hidden world that exists somewhere between The Moon and Mars. Bidden by the strange old wizard like figure Master Mantis, a character who seems like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid movies mixed with Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, the three children Ace, Hanna, and Trevor are taken to this world to help save this world.
The real focus of the story is on Ace and Princess Zenith or “Zhii”. As can be expected in a fantasy story the human hero and the Imagi Princess share an unlikely friendship. Ace is the star player for his high school football team who is used to being in charge. A hero on the field, he recently developed a love for art that his other teammates mock him for. Zhii is a princess who is used to life in the castle and has never ventured beyond her kingdom. Training for years to eventually be the Impress of the ImagiNation, she feels she must go on this quest to prove her worth.
Their egos clash and their tempers flare but the two of them grow to respect each other’s strengths and care for one another. Aided by Ace’s sister and brother, good trolls, the dragon Rhyuu, to Pagususes named Alpha and Omega and a band of forest renegades, snake, crane and Panther who feel like they’d be at home in a Mad Max movie, this band of heroes embarks on a quest to retrieve the Crystal Heart that powers their kingdom before the villains catch it.
The villains, Stonedish and Vadheema are pure wickedness .While most modern villains seem to at least have some redeeming qualities not so for these two. They argue, and bicker like Megatron and Starscream in Transformers cartoons. While villains like Darth Vader and Palpatine or Saruman and Sauron may seem loyal to one another, only to try and stab the other in the back in private, Stonedish and Vahdeema make their disdain for each other clear. It is their disunion that is one of the reasons why they are so easy to defeat.
While there is a bit of magic in this world, everything is largely attributed to science. Another distinction for this book from other fantasy realms is that time between ImagiNation and Earth runs the same. While the young heroes that traveled to Wonderland, Oz, Never-never-land, Narnia and Camazots where they travel there and back in less than a second, The Edwards children are gone from Earth for five days. Thankfully they are on fall break, thus allowing them to not miss anything of importance back home.
There is a lot of exposition in the book, which is understandable .When developing a fantasy world, the first book is usually rife with set up, especially in one like this that has sci-fi technology. These parts do slow the book down just a tad, but once they are in place the story moves along at a nice pace. Add to it the companion booklet that includes the back story and character biographies for the stories principal characters, as well as very wonderful sketches, this world is already fleshed out. In fact because everything is so well defined, the only head scratcher most readers may encounter is just how this race of aliens learned the human form of Martial Arts known as Kung Fu.
With the first book in this series out of the way and the world established there is little doubt that ImagiNation Unveiled can soar to new heights. In fact I think this could have the potential to be this generation’s answer to The Never Ending Story. With its wildly imaginative characters, exciting adventure, and themes of bravery, friendship and virtue, this book is a wonderful love letter to the power and joy of imagination. That is something worth celebrating.
4 ½ out of 5 shields
Order the book from Amazon.com