Caitlin Sweet, author of three previous novels for adults, makes her YA debut with The Door in the Mountain. The book tells of a world (inspired by ancient Crete) where beauty and violence rule, and the course of your life is determined by whether or not you have a “godmark” – a special gift or ability.
The story relates the experiences of Ariadne, a princess, and Chara, the female slave given to her as a gift on her 16th-birthday. We first meet Ariadne when she is seven, living in a palace above the ocean, desperately wanting to be godmarked like her brother, Icarus, who transforms into a bird, and her parents, whose gifts come from Poseidon and Zeus. But as Ariadne grows up (the story jumps ahead to when she is 16) she learns that all is not as it seems, and life is not always perfect with a godmark.
Sweet excels at detailed descriptions and character development, engaging the reader’s senses with highly poetic language as she drives the plot forward. A dress smells like lemons; every moment the characters experience takes place against an evocative backdrop of sea and sky. Ariadne and Chara appear to be opposites, but neither has a mark, and each reacts to that in different, interesting ways.
At times, however, the book suffers from too much description, the abundance of detail weighing down the narrative. Still, Sweet’s first offering for young readers – which explores familiar themes such as coming of age, family, love, friendship, and nostalgia for the simplicity of childhood – is a beautifully written fantasy. Readers will no doubt be eager to return to this world, with its fresh take on Greek mythology, in the planned sequel.