Title: Through the Portal
Author: Justin Dennis
Release Date: August 2011
Length: 252 pages
Series?: Through the Portal #1
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Fantasy
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When Jem and Oliver accidentally fall through a portal to another world just before their first year of high school, they quickly discover that all is not well here. The first person they meet, a creepy old man named Atychis, almost gets them killed by a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon. They’re only narrowly saved when Sierra, a shy farm girl from a nearby town, uses illegal magic to help them escape. Allowed to stay with her family while they try to figure out a way back home, Jem and Oliver begin to learn of magic and the Regime that is oppressing it.
It isn’t until the Regime kills a woman that the three kids realize they have to do something to stop the Regime from taking over completely. After being framed for a crime they didn’t commit and banished from the town, Jem, Oliver, and Sierra take off on an adventure across this strange world in an attempt to defeat the Regime. New creatures and new kinds of magic are around every corner, but so are dangers that could have them wishing they were back safe at home.
Through the Portal is the first book in a planned trilogy.
I have mixed feelings about this book. What do I mean by that?
This was a difficult book for me to get through. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a wonderful and great story. This book was a very stick-it-to-the-man, defy-the-system type, which little ol’ scrappy me likes, but it was just too slow at the beginning, and about mid-way through it started slacking off again, and then again toward the end. I would fall asleep many nights with my Kindle in my hands, trying to get through a few more pages. The chapters were extraordinarily long for a piece of fiction. Perhaps that contributed to this feeling of “I’m never going to finish this book!”
Now, with that said: this is a book that could be made into the next big blockbuster. I would actually look forward to seeing this story play out on the big screen.
Oliver is a youth from a world of privilege. His parents have money enough, he has a younger sibling that adores him. His family has got it going on. Oliver is strong-willed and outspoken. Bold.
Jem is a troubled boy from the other side of the tracks. His parents died in a skydiving incident when he was a babe, and he has been raised by his ailing and blind grandmother ever since. He is very poor and knows that it wouldn’t matter if he disappeared: his grandmother wouldn’t even notice. 😦 Jem is that cowering kid in the corner, the exact opposite of Oliver.
Growing up, kids weeded out and picked on Jem because of his background. Oliver stood up for him, and they became fast friends. Oliver’s family would take Jem with them on trips, and he became an extension of their family.
This fact, the two main characters being foils of one another, immediately made me imagine all kinds of conflict to play out in this book. Fortunately, nothing compared with what I imagined, and their friendship remained intact.
I don’t know what type of time frame this book covers – it’s not very specific – and that’s something I was interested to know. Oliver and Jem fall through a portal at the bottom of Lake Sammamich (near Seattle) and wash ashore in a new world: Callisto. They are found by Atychis, a former Elder of the Argo region. Atychis is certifiable, and readers truly find out just how much so at the end of the book. They also have a run-in with the Red Dragon.
Jem and Oliver also meet Sierra and her older sister Rimaya, who’s dad is a stringent Regime follower. The Regime, under the power of Veroci, has little by little taken over almost all of Callisto and outlawed magic. And that’s where Jem, Oliver, Sierra, and Rimaya get into trouble.
The Terello family has graciously offered their home to Jem and Oliver, who help out on the farm. The boys are trying to come to grips with this new world, and what exactly is going on. They go to the local cafe to have some fizzies, and BAM! They are on “trial” for a major crime they didn’t commit. They see just how far the Regime will go to maintain control, and they flee.
Growing up in Argo, Sierra has been told all her life of legends: the legend of the Red Dragon, the Phoenix, the world of Kelados, the legend of 1000 Curses. The Regime has structured the world so that citizens remain in the region they were born into. There is no crossing the borders, for they have magnificently implemented the Legend of 1000 Curses: you cross the regional border into another region, you are cursed with 1000 curses, one of which is to grow a third leg. Obviously, Oliver and Jem see right through this ploy.
The three continue on throughout the world of Callisto, which is divided into six regions, pursued by Regime guards, all while trying to develop their magical skills. They come upon a scene that is very familiar to Oliver and Jem: a kid, Farouche, getting picked on by a gang of kids. Farouche turns out to be quiet a little inventor, and follows them in secret. The entire journey, people are constantly making unremarkable comments about Jem’s eyes being blue. It was starting to drive me crazy, because readers don’t find out why until the last quarter of the book.
Along the way, they have to make some serious choices about where they belong. They come face-to-face with Veroci himself after being betrayed by a second Elder, and end up in a land uninhabited by Regime outposts. They come to live a comfortable and safe life in the region of Luria, with an Elder who is honest, and hell-bent on defeating the Regime, but secretive. But the Red Dragon also lurks in the skies of Luria.
Jem and Sierra are a unique pair; she will stick by his side no matter what, even through her fears. Through an unfortunate set of events, Jem becomes convinced that Veroci is hoarding an army of Regime guards in the North Island, a place that is almost inhospitable, even though everyone else remains unconvinced.
The two also learn of a portal that goes to Kelados, and of course go looking for it, and are attacked by the Red Dragon…but Jem notices that the dragon has a rider. They are rescued and nursed back to health, but discover that Jem has a very unique quality about him. Scientists and doctors try again and again unsuccessfully to get him to exhibit the talents of his new quality. The determine he cannot bring these talents to fruitation, but Sierra knows they will. She jumps off the roof to test her theory, which proves correct. After this discovery, they set off for North Island…and encounter the Red Dragon and its rider.
I wish I could talk about the ending, but I can’t. My blabbermouth would give it away, but I will say that it is a fantastic ending! I will say this: Jem shares with Sierra that his parents’ bodies were never found, and I have a feeling they will show up in one of the sequential books.
I was impressed with the transformation of Jem, in particular, in this book. He starts off as only what I can imagine as the Coward of the County, and grows and develops beyond his previous limits. He sheds this outer skin, because before it seemed as if he was riding on Oliver’s coat tails. It would have been an interesting story if Oliver had stayed in Callisto, to see how things would have turned out.
About the Author
Justin Dennis is from the rainy state of Washington but is going to college in sunny California. Soccer, which he used to play in high school, is his favorite sport, and he has in interest in creative writing, anthropology, and physics. He is a huge tech nerd who is obsessed with the newest and shiniest phones, tablets, and computers.
Writing occupies almost all of his time. The Through the Portal trilogy is his effort to inspire good morals in an entertaining and exciting way. Through fantasy, he believes that important real world lessons can be conveyed effectively.
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