Title: The Bell Between Worlds
Author: Ian Johnstone
Series: The Mirror Chronicles #1
Sylas Tate lives with his uncle, escaping his circumstances through elaborate daydreams. But when he enters a mysterious Shop of Things while running an errand, he’s thrown into a reality far stranger than any of his dreams. A bell tolls, but only he can hear. Monsters pursue him across worlds, and in this Other world he needs to find the answers to the questions he left behind in his own. Doing so may save both realities . . .
I loved this. The evocative language fleshes out both characters and world. I love the way Sylas notices beauty, particularly in nature, and how he experiences the magic that is the connections between living things. I loved the multiple forms of magic, and the different ways they work; the worlds and their connection; the Egyptian-hybrid feel to much of the setting in the Other. Thoth as a villain at first made me laugh (since I was still picturing the Egyptian namesake), but the actual character is suitably creepy, and it will be interesting to get some kind of an origin story in future books (at least, I hope one is forthcoming, as Thoth is one of the oddest of a cast of very odd characters).
I also adored the characters. Sylas is a dreamer, and capable of great things because of those dreams, but he never loses the feeling of being a somewhat ordinary boy still surprised at everything he’s stumbled into. I liked how the beginning scene with him and his kites echoed throughout the story, and how he struggles to follow the path he’s chosen even though logic suggests he ought to go back to his own world and try to solve everything from there. And I really liked his attitude towards his own power, especially the bit where he insists on digging a firepit by hand precisely because he’s just come off working a very strong spell. He hasn’t quite figured out what his limits are, or what the limits of this power might be, but he’s got a lot of good sense.
And surrounding Sylas are a number of other fascinating characters. Ash was easily my favorite. A bit of a prankster, he’s usually saying or doing something that has someone wanting to hit him. And I will be very interested to see if Ash’s stance on using two forms of magic actually bears out. It’s easy to see why the Suhl in general despite the three schools not their own, but the story itself hasn’t shown that the magic, not the users, are to blame. So I wonder if Ash and his love of Kimiyya might find a way to redeem some of what that branch can do.
All in all this was a very solid fantasy adventure, and I very much look forward to tracking down the sequels. I rate this book Highly Recommended.