The Monster Realm

the-monster-realm

The Monster Realm was written by Nara Duffie and first published in 2015. It is a fantasy story about a twelve-year-old girl who braves a land of mythological creatures in order to find her missing sister. The novel forms the first part of a series and is followed by The Three Worlds (2016).

Lillian was only ten years old when her older sister, Bluebell, vanished in the night. In the two years that followed, not a trace of her was ever found. Yet as Bluebell’s birthday draws closer, Lillian gets an unfathomable urge to go and search for her sister on the beach. She’s joined in her hunt by her two best friends, Katy and Maisy.

While she doesn’t find Bluebell on the beach, she does meet a strange boy called Jack. Jack claims that her sister has travelled to Lanodeka – a subterranean world where monsters hide from people that would otherwise want to kill them. Using a magical stone medallion, he opens a passageway to the world and offers to be their guide.

Yet Lanodeka is a world that is more dangerous than any of them could have imagined. In order to reach Bluebell, the girls have to battle wood elves, rocs and even Medusa herself. The creatures of Lanodeka are preparing for war, wanting to take the human world for themselves. Soon, Lillian and her friends learn that they are the only people who may be able to stop it. That is, if they survive that long…

The first thing that you really need to know about The Monster Realm is that it was written when Duffie was only ten years old. To write a novel is a massive achievement but to publish something of such high quality before you’re even a teenager is something else altogether. It’s very clear that Duffie is a natural storyteller and incredibly talented writer, and I’m certain that she’ll go far in the future.

The story itself is very easy to read, with dialogue simple enough for a middle grade reader to follow. It’s an action-packed tale, with Lillian and her friends forced to confront, fight and escape from many colourful creatures in their quest to find Bluebell. It’s clear that Duffie’s biggest strength is her imagination. Inspired by the creatures of Ray Harryhausen movies (particularly Clash of the Titans) her world is packed with a wide variety of recognisable mythological creatures.

The thing that I enjoyed most about The Monster Realm was how the author made these monsters her own. While a lot of inspiration was taken from myths, the creatures gain their charm from their unique attributes. My favourites include the sightless, skeletal wood elves and the fluffy brownies, both of which were unlike anything I’d ever read before. I was eager to read on just to see what creatures would appear on Lillan’s journey next, and find out if they were friend or foe.

While The Monster Realm is a very strong debut novel, the story does have one or two small flaws. The biggest issue for me was the way that the third person narrative often switches it’s point of view. While it feels as though it should be anchored behind Lillian, it often drifts to the other characters and sometimes flits between the four protagonists multiple times in a chapter. I personally found this to be a little distracting as it made the action sequences a hard to follow. There were also a few spelling mistakes in the version that the author provided for me to review. I don’t know if these have been ironed out of the published version or not but one in particular (the misspelling of “Theseus” twice in quick succession) really did stand out.

I also felt that the progression of the plot was a bit uneven. While the first half of the story is very exciting, there isn’t a lot of substance to it. It purely focuses on three girls and a boy on an adventure through unknown lands. Most of the character development came very late in the story, when the reason for Bluebell’s disappearance became clear. While there was the odd flashback before this point (most of which did not paint Bluebell in a very good light), the true reason for her disappearance is not even hinted at until the climax. This is mainly personal preference but I did feel that the novel would have flowed a lot better if some hints towards this had been dropped earlier in the tale.

Yet the protagonists were all fantastic. As you are aware, I love strong female characters and it was great to see how the girls developed as the story progressed. The best character arc by far belonged to Katy. She began the story as a timid girly-girl, virtually afraid of her own shadow. While she never wanted to go to Lanodeka in the first place, she really grew stronger as the story progressed as she realised that she was far tougher than she realised (and that there are more important things than getting your clothes dirty).

However, it was Maisy that totally stole the show. While she seemed a little unrealistic (there is a thin line between courage and insanity) and could be annoying, her recklessness provided a lot of the story’s humour. I loved that her goal was to touch Medusa and almost cheered when she finally got her chance. I also liked Jack a lot, but was disappointed that we didn’t find out more about him. His backstory is eventually revealed in the novel but I’d like to have found out how he came into possession of the stone medallion. The object seems to be really powerful, yet it seems to be something that his mother just had.

The only real disappointment in the principal cast was Lillian. Although she was the primary protagonist of the story, the novel didn’t really seem to be about her a lot of the time. Between the wandering narrative and the far stronger personalities of Katy and Maisy, she often just seemed to fade into the background. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what was wrong with her. She’s a good and kind person but beyond this, I can’t remember much about her beyond her love of Ray Harryhausen movies. Perhaps if the narrative view had stayed with her all of the time she would have been a bit more memorable.

I think I’ve probably said enough. The Monster Realm is a well-written debut novel, packed with excitement and introducing some great young heroines. While there are a few flaws with it, it’s important to remember that it’s still a magnificent achievement for a writer as young as Duffie. I’m really eager to take a look at the sequel to see how her writing improves over time. Look out for it in a future review.

The Monster Realm can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2016 – Part 4 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: The Three Worlds | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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