I loved this book, and explaining how much and why could get complicated.
It tells a story of three teenagers trapped in a bleak prison of a town, where they face violence and torment at every turn. Their only escape is a new world, filled with bitter-sweet wonders that threaten to tear them apart. This book explores the mind, and the horrors the each of us must face within our own heads, and the cages we create for ourselves and others.
The overriding feeling I got from reading this book was nostalgia. It reminded me of how it felt to be teenager in high school. It's themes about being forced to blend in with the `majority', or face the alternative of blending into the `outcasts' really struck home. True individuality is really frowned upon in our world, and if you don't pick a social group life can be really hard, especially in school. It's the sense of damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Despite the sometimes absurd metaphysical surroundings, Annika creates characters that are extraordinarily relatable. You really care for Aster, Meg, Lycia, and even to a lesser extent the villainous Morgan. The problem with some books that dwell entirely in the mental realm is that it can be hard to feel that the events really matter. That's not the case here. The horrors faced by our heroes are real to them, and that makes them real to the reader, and utterly terrifying to boot.
The book shies away from clear cut good and evil. Life, like Greenwood, is filled with grey areas. And despite the topsy turvey worlds she explores, Annika never loses track of the narrative. This is a driven story, and it clings to its structure superbly.
I would heartily recommend this book to anyone with a taste for fantasy who fancies something a bit darker and more thought provoking than the standard fair. And to anyone who has ever explored the world inside their own head, and longs to explore the worlds of others.
This is a book for dreamers. If you, like me, fit that bill, then Annika Howells is your keyholder.