Dylan Dover: Into the Vortex
by Lynne Howard
The Conrad Press

"Reus had been under Baltazar’s control for centuries and knew that he was expendable and easily replaced."

A woman named Maggie gives birth to four children, but during delivery, two of them are stolen and taken away to a strange world—the human world. There, Dylan is brought up by the Dover family, heedless of his origins or the existence of the world in which he was born, a world with its own laws where light and dark exist without the benefit of the sun and moon. Twelve years later, he ventures through a mysterious portal and finds himself unexpectedly in the borderland between worlds and in the custody of the Department of Displaced or Delusional Witches, Warlocks, and Wizards. Reunited with his original parents, Ben and Maggie, Dylan is overjoyed to learn that he has a twin brother named Remus and that the two have the power to exchange thoughts using telepathy.

This first book follows Dylan’s progress as he uncovers certain fundamental truths about himself and explores the immortal world—a world where food can be generated by thought, where breakfast is eaten on stools that float in the air, and where portals can instantly transport people from one place to another. Dylan is surprised to see two huskies, who are shapeshifters, transform into humans, revealing that they’ve been secretly tailing and protecting him his whole life. He hears whispers of a mysterious vampire who, just before his alleged destruction, made a prophecy about the imminent end of the immortal world—a prophecy in which Dylan, Remus, and their still-missing third sibling seem to be implicated. It gradually becomes clear that Dylan is being hunted by the villainous Baltazar and his obsequious minion Reus, who has insinuated himself into the lives of the two boys and their brilliant friend Thea. Amid the joys of attending school, learning to fly, and befriending the apparently sentient fireballs that surround them, Dylan begins to suspect that someone is seeking his death.

This is a work of real invention, in which children have the ability to levitate furniture and flip rooms upside-down, but anyone attempting to change the weather is punished by being exiled to Gehenna. There is a hospital that operates like a Venus fly-trap, which is one of the more creative set pieces in a work of fantasy in recent years. At moments the story conjures the joy of the classic Doctor Who serials from the 1970s and ‘80s in which the Doctor and his companions are forced to solve a series of intricate puzzles or navigate strange obstacles. There’s an inherent warmth and nostalgia in the story of three children attending an unusual school and facing off against various fantastical dangers that evokes the pleasures of reading the Percy Jackson or Nevermoor books. At certain moments the prose is strikingly poetic. For example, Thea is described as having eyes “shining with curiosity and so dark that they reminded Dylan of polished onyx.” The book is at its best when Dylan and his friends are encountering labyrinths, ogres, and creatures with eight heads, and one wishes that there had been more of these miniature episodes packed with incident and danger. But the characters have a real affection for one another and are written with vividness and generosity that leave the reader, by the end, wishing for a second installment.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize Short List book and a First Horizon Award Finalist

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