Let’s step in to the Wayback Machine for this one. 1994! Bruce Coville was very in at the time, at least in my circles. You know, the ones featuring nine-year olds. We all coveted those books that implied our teachers were aliens, or whatever. But Coville didn’t just do wacky, humorous sff, he could also do straight epic fantasy. Enter this book, which I read approximately ten thousand times (though I settled on marking that as 10 in Goodreads). Twelve year old Cara is pulled into a magical world called Luster after she and her grandmother are pursued by a man into an old church. Her grandmother frantically hands her an amulet and tells her to protect it at all costs. She also tells Cara to find “The Old One” and tells her “The Wanderer is weary.” She then makes Cara jump out of the window, where she falls into another world.
So Cara finds herself in Luster, with unicorns, dragons, dwarfs, the occasional stray human who is allowed to stay, goblin-like creatures called delvers, and two beings who call themselves The Dimblethum and The Squijum, who very may well be the only members of their species, and Cara wants to know how that would work, but she doesn’t think about it too hard because she is soon pursued by many who want her grandmother’s amulet for themselves. Her adventures in Luster make it clear that her family history, and the history of the Earth (not to mention Luster) is very different than she thought, and that there is magic in the world, and those who want nothing more than to enact centuries long vengeance on unicorns, and wipe them from existence.
I’m genuinely surprised that 2008 Ashley rated this book only four stars, with how much it featured in my reading life as a kid, and how much I loved it and re-read it over and over. I came here intending to uphold my five-star rating out of sheer nostalgia, but found only four. I will let that stand! But I will also have you know, nine-year old Ashley would have rated this six stars.
I had that weird experience reading this that only happens with books you read and loved as a child and haven’t revisited in decades, where I was able to view the events through my childhood self’s perception and remember why and how much I loved it, and at the same time, I was able to read it with my adult knowledge of the fantasy genre, which wasn’t as impressed with the book and its tropes. I could see A LOT of things in here that, while used to great effect and with good execution, I’ve now read in many other fantasy books, and understand they are not as original and mind-blowing as my childhood self thought them. Also, with this young of middle-grade, there’s always that problem that the book just isn’t long enough. My childhood brain was able to extrapolate a lot of things and fill in the blanks, whereas my adult self just wanted more.
Luckily, there are three more books! Which I somehow never read, ever, despite this being one of my favorite books. I guess I just never ran across them in the library, and the Scholastic Book Fair didn’t carry them? Otherwise I would have been all over it. In retrospect, I am even more mind-boggled that I never continued, because this book more than anything acts as a prologue to the other books, all three of which are much bigger than this one and its 159 pages, and cliffhanger ending.
I think I’m going to hold off on forming judgments of the bad guys—the Hunters, and their leader, whose name is Beloved (creepy)—until I see how they’re developed in the rest of the series. My younger self didn’t need any more development than what’s here, and which I thought was incredibly dark and cool, but adult Ashley needs to see how it all turns out.
Reading book two tomorrow. I have book three (took me several years to track down used copies of books two and three) but I still need book four, so I’ll probably pair up three and four and read them later this year.
EVERYBODY CROSS YOUR FINGERS FOR A GOOD ENDING. I’m using all caps to mollify my nine-year old self, who still can’t believe I only rated this book four stars.