It’s been a while since I read and reviewed Above the Star the first in Alexis Marie Chute’s Young Adult fantasy trilogy. In an ideal world, I would have reread it before reading the second but, unfortunately, I didn’t have it on me. I’ve been forcing everyone I know to read it because I absolutely loved it. I’m always a bit scared of recommending books that I love to people because, well, what do you do if they hate them? You either have to reevaluate your literary choices or your friend choices. And, let’s be honest, books are going to win every time. But I do make an exception when I think a book is good enough. And I definitely thought that Above the Star was good enough. It was one of my favourite reads of last year and I’ve been eagerly awaiting news of the second book’s release. Luckily for me, Alexis Marie Chute offered to send me an ARC copy so I didn’t even have to wait for the actual release date in October this year. I already had about 3 books on the go when this arrived but I knew I had to start it immediately. And I was hooked from the start. If it hadn’t been for my inconsiderate niece deciding to be born early, I would have finished and reviewed it weeks ago.
Below the Moon picks up exactly where Above the Star left us. Our three heroes have been through a lot since they were transported to the island of Jarr-Wya from Earth. Archie is rediscovering his youth, his daughter-in-law Tessa is fighting to save her daughter and trying to work out what her heart really wants, and his granddaughter Ella is battling cancer and falling in love. All that and Archie is still coming to terms with the fact that his son, Arden, has transformed into an Orlearon: red skinned fire warriors that are native to Jarr-Wya. But he doesn’t have much time to think about any of that, as Archie and his family are caught up in mysteries, wars, and secret identities. Along the way, they will find that the only way to really survive in an ever-darkening world is to keep their family together.
After the events of the first book, our trio is about to set out towards the mysterious Star that lives under the sea. They hope to destroy it, bring peace back to Jarr-Wya, and discover the secret to healing Ella’s cancer. Joining them are their fellow human travelers, Duggie-Sky, Captain Nate and Lady Sophia; a group of Orlearon warriors; the Lord of Orlearon; and Luggie, the son of the tyrannical Bangol King and enemy of the Orlearons. As darkness and evil makes its way throughout Jarr-Wya, the party encounter a great number of problems along the way. They have to battle against a host of different foes and use all of their cunning to survive. But can they actually make it to the Star and bring life back to Jarr-Wya?
This book has all the great aspects of the first book but it has definitely upped the ante. The world we were introduced to has is ever expanding and we’re meeting new species all the time. Alexis Marie Chute’s background as an artist really comes in handy when it comes to world-building. The description is as lush and artistic as they were in the last book. Everything feels so vivid and real. Obviously, this is aided by the amazing illustrations that accompany the story. The illustrations are drawn from Ella’s point-of-view as they are her only real method of communication. They not only help bring life to the world but add an extra element of immersiveness. Ella is communicating with her family and the reader.
Below the Moon is a sophisticated but fun story. It has everything you could want and manages to avoid the typical cliches of fantasy novels. It is full of magic and quaint creatures, yet, but there is a maturity to everything. This narrative is fast-paced and full of action. Just like the first book, this novel doesn’t shy away from violence and danger. There was plenty of death within the first book and it’s a big part of this novel too. It isn’t too gratuitous and it elevates the book beyond your typical YA fantasy. Last time, I compared the writing to Neil Gaiman and I maintain that they share a certain darkness that is kind of irresistible.
Thankfully, there is plenty of good stuff to balance out the evil. This series is, at its heart, the story of a family who loves each other enough to risk their lives. There is plenty of heart and charm within this story that you can’t help but fall in love with these characters. They feel as real as they did before and that’s even with the magical changes that they’ve all gone through. Alexis Marie Chute has done amazingly well to write these characters and their relationships. Particularly the interactions between Tess and Ella. She manages to accurately portray the mother/daughter bond and discuss how Ella’s illness has altered that. There are some highly emotional scenes that had me on the verge of tears, which, if I’m honest, is something I don’t often associate with this genre.
Do I have quibbles? Yes. But that’s only because I selfishly wanted more of certain things. Because I selfishly wanted things to go on longer. This book is so similar to the first one yet has a completely different feel about it. It has the same sense of heart and humanity about it but it has so much more energy to it. Things are happening and they’re happening quickly. It feels so much more alive and chaotic. Chaotic in a good way though as the mood fits with the narrative. This second installment is building to something and, I for one, can’t wait to see what that is.
Who is Murdocal? A casual critic who is a little bit too obsessed with pop culture. A young woman who swears and rants much more than she knows she should whilst trying to make her way in an adult world she isn't prepared for. A not as recent as she'd like literature graduate who, between job applications and subsequent rejections, has turned to the internet to fight the boredom and review the shit out of everything.
"Maybe, just maybe, I'm the faller. Every family has someone who falls, who doesn't make the grade, who stumbles, who life trips up. Maybe I'm our faller."