The Bell Between Worlds

The Bell Between Worlds - Ian  Johnstone **An ARC was provided by Harper Collins UK Children's in exchange for an honest review**

When a book gets compared to big name works and titles that have come before it, it can really be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives the reader an idea what kind of story to expect and it can get people's attention where they might not have gravitated towards a certain book otherwise. On the other hand though, comparisons set the bar pretty high - sometimes, impossibly so. When I stumbled upon The Bell Between Worlds, I was intrigued right away. Just by the cover, you can tell that it's children or middle-grade high fantasy - which we all know I love. Then, reading the blurb as you probably did just now, I became simultaneously giddy & terrified. C.S. Lewis & Philip Pullman are both beyond epic in their own rights as the authors of the Narnia Series & His Dark Materials respectively. Could The Mirror Chronicles really hold it's own among such heavy-weights? After reading The Bell Between Worlds I can easily say that it did for me - and then some!

The Bell Between Worlds is the first installment in The Mirror Chronicles and it introduces us to a world so richly imagined & so completely fresh that it was hard to believe that this was author Ian Johnstone's first book. In The Bell Between Worlds, we're introduced to Sylas Tate - a very lonely young boy in the care of his uncle since his mother passed away some years before. Sylas's life hasn't been easy but he's managed to make the most of it thanks to his inane imagination & creativity. Then, on a day like any other, Sylas discovers a strange new little shop selling a variety of oddities and 'things'; little treasures that stir the imagination and seem almost magical. And the wizened shopkeeper, Mr.Zhi seems to know an awful lot about Sylas...he even hints that he believes Sylas will embark on an adventure of his own soon. Before long, something seriously magical does happen; through a truly incredible and kind of scary set of circumstances, Sylas travels to an 'other' world. A world that is very similar to our own but also strikingly different because in this world, real magic exists. It is in this 'other' world that Sylas will embark the quest of a lifetime!

There are a few things I look for in children's/middle-grade fantasy. World building is probably one of the biggest determining factors in fantasy reads of all ages to be honest so let's start there. In children's/m-g fantasy, I like the descriptions of a magical new world to be rich and vivid without weighing the story down - simple but effective. This may sound pretty do-able but in reality, it's not an easy task to achieve. To me, The Bell Between Worlds accomplished it wonderfully. The way this 'other' world is introduced is equal parts inventive, awe-inspiring and exciting. I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat as it all unfolded before my eyes with a huge smile on my face! The end result is wholly unique and from that point on, I was hooked.

Once Sylas had crossed over into 'the Other', I continued to be impressed by the beautiful descriptions and the magical world as it unfolded before my eyes. I felt that the magical system itself was really original and chock-full of potential. The characters were diverse and likeable - it was easy to feel for them and understand Sylas' desire to not only get to know them all but also to help them out. And that's the kind of protagonist Sylas is. Beyond his imagination and wit, he's also inclined to want to listen others, to understand and to try and help in any way he can. It's hard for someone like me not to connect an MC who's best trait is his imagination but Sylas is much more than that - and the more I got to know him, the more I wanted to spend time with him! His choice in friends once he crossed into 'the Other' only sweetened the deal; they ranged from funny, mysterious and even conflicted but they all had one thing in common: a perfect mix of bravery and hope.

The dark side of this magical world was pretty creeptastic right from the word go. Sylas is being hunted but he soon finds out that this whole world is pretty much under a reign of terror brought on by some sort of age-old and horribly powerful being and his army of hellish hound creatures. Throughout the book, you're always reminded that nowhere is safe, those hounds can smell out anything and anyone and they.are.everywhere. The best part of it was that it seemed like we got a lot of information on the villains but since this is the first book, I can only expect that we'll be learning a lot more. I love it when authors take time to fully develop both sides of the spectrum, only because it makes the story feel more balanced to me. And I'm big on balance >.<

The Bell Between Worlds was a surprising, promising and exciting debut from author Ian Johnstone and I am already eager to get my hands on the sequel. There were a few details I'd hope would have been fleshed out a bit more before the end but it seemed obvious to me that they will be addressed in the next book(s). The ending was a bit abrupt too but when I read the final words I already knew I would be tagging along for however many more adventures Sylas needs to go on. I think the best part for me was that despite the fact that it is indeed in the same vein as stories like Narnia & His Dark Materials, The Bell Between Worlds didn't have any preachy underlying religious themes. There were solid life lessons and good morals instilled in here but it was done with a light touch and in very good taste. The Mirror Chronicles promises to be an addictive and compelling series for the young and young at heart!

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