When we meet Caley Cross in her first adventure, Caley Cross and the Hadeon Drop (due out September 8), she’s living a fairy-tale life. Only it’s the first part of that life, where you’re an orphan being raised in an abusive orphanage. This doesn’t make her particularly popular at her middle school, nor does her tendency to reanimate dead animals when she’s upset.
After one such incident, a mysterious crow with a metal wing spies her and seems to say “Found you.” She is soon whisked off to a magical world called Erinath, where she is the highest of high princesses in the land and is enrolled in a school where kids learn to manage the magic of this world and others.
Being whisked away to somewhere new where you’re someone special is a popular storyline in middle-grade fantasy books, and Caley Cross hews close to the norms of the genre: the friends you make right away who are true to you even when you’re awful, the mean girl who wants to embarrass you, the secrets in your past, the preternatural skill at something you’ve never experienced before, the fluttery romantic feelings you’re beginning to feel, and others.
But author Jeff Rosen’s world is wholly its own. In Erinath, you bond with a living being (your “beast”) as a child, and that shapes your magic and your life in unique ways. Caley Cross bonds with a dark, malevolent beast early on, and harnesses its raw power when wielding an energy sword while riding her oroc, a sort of giant, furry dragonfly. Her home for the book is a massive sentient tree that rearranges its internal structure constantly. Humans as well as human-esque creatures are all part of the milling population. While Caley finds Erinath amazing, she quickly learns that an evil Watcher is after her in particular, and people within the school are under his influence, while others are fighting against him. Eluding and defeating him promises to be a recurring theme in the rest of the books.
TL;DR: If your kid liked the Harry Potter stories but not the way their girl characters were sidelined by boring male characters, they’ll find a lot to love in this book. My daughter moved the review copy we received to the top of her stack as soon as she saw it, and tore through it in about a day. She laughed out loud at some parts but found the book, by and large, gripping and intense, with lots of action.
A few aspects may turn off some readers. Nary a mention of the mean girl’s minions goes by without some comment about their weight; equating being overweight with being bad and stupid reinforces bullying behavior that ostracizes children and adults alike. Also, one character seems to repeatedly represent the going-too-far view of political correctness in a way that mocks the very necessary efforts to remove phrases built on harmful stereotypes from the language.
I received a review copy for this article.