Above the Star: The 8th Island Trilogy
by Alexis Marie Chute

"If Archie can trust this creature, maybe he can finish the work his son began."

Three people, a sort-of family, have the chance for a vacation in one of the world’s most sought-after destinations—the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain. Grumpy, slightly dotty Archie is the grandfather of Ella, a young teenager slowly but surely dying of brain cancer who has lost the power of speech. Tessa is his daughter-in-law, Ella’s mother. Ever since Ella’s father Arden disappeared without even a goodbye note, the three have been miserable. Now, however, Archie secretly believes he can cure Ella by using a strange device called a Tillastrion. Arden kept notebooks in which he described this device that could move him to another dimension, a legendary “8th island” accessible only through the Canaries. But as they are boarding the ship to explore the islands, Tessa asks Archie why he has chosen this faraway location for their sojourn, and he is forced into divulging a little bit about Arden’s notebooks before sneaking off to find the place where he is sure he will be able to procure the magic Tillastrion.

In a shop on a backstreet, Archie meets Zeno, who looks like a boy but is actually an ancient dwarf. Zeno can supply the Tillastrion, but it won’t get Archie to the mysterious island of Jarr-wya unless Zeno goes with him. In addition, Tessa and Ella must go, too—especially Ella. In fact, Zeno takes the entire cruise ship to Jarr-wya, where everything is immediately and at times horribly out of kilter. The island is under the sway of an evil Star, and there are three very different kinds of beings—Bangols, Millia, and Olearons—vying for its possession.

The author shows her skills as a cast of bizarre characters is introduced, beginning when the ever-nervous Tessa awakes from the traumatic jump to the parallel realm to find herself overseen by an eight-foot-tall female creature with flames shooting out her back. As Chute’s multi-layered story develops, Ella develops, too, growing from a self-absorbed youngster with artistic talent into a savvy, observant teen who after she is kidnapped (the very reason why Zeno was so keen to take her along) may just find the moxie needed to survive.

Chute has created a young adult fantasy with teeth. No one is quite who or what they seem at first glance, including the apparently feckless Arden who will return—albeit in a changed form—and reveal himself as a good enough father after all. Tessa, in Chute’s transmogrified universe, will have to confront her own fears and self-doubts, and Archie will not always act the hero. These are characters with depth, not cartoon cut-outs. In addition, Chute’s writing is compelling. She uses words with evident experience, as comfortable describing vomit and gore as in depicting the gentle romance emerging between Tessa and the ship’s skipper Nate. At times the book’s psychological character explorations seem slightly too mature for a younger reader, but there is enough action per page to keep everyone enthralled. A special bonus is the collection of Ella’s drawings, crucial to the plot, that has been produced by the author, who is also an award-winning artist and photographer. This is the first book in a series with an ending sufficiently fraught with change and possibility to make Chute’s fans come back for more.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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