Teenager Will Lightfoot steals his father’s antique motorcycle and crashes spectacularly into an alternate world – the Perilous Realm, the place where all stories begin. And, as Will soon discovers, perilous it is – it’s in the grip of one of those monomaniacal forces of evil that seem to chronically plague such kingdoms.
So begins a new trilogy by a gifted writer who has already made a name for himself in adult fiction with the novels Icefields (1995) and Salamander (2001). Wharton teaches writing and English at the University of Alberta, and it shows in allusions to Norse myth and Arthurian legend, Tennyson and Tolkien.
Wharton’s prose is at times direct and workmanlike, at other times pyrotechnic, as when he conjures up ingenious encounters with fetches and werefires, a dragon, a golem, a Shrowde. Where he stumbles is in characterization. He relies too heavily on simplistic fantasy archetypes: his young hero Will is rebellious, the wolf Shade is loyal, the heroine Rowen is feisty, and her grandfather Pendrake is a crafty old loremaster. Gradually, however, they take on independent lives.
Will’s new friends help him search for the “gateless gate” that will take him home, knowing that they, too, will be done for if he falls into the hands of whatever is hunting him. It does little to spoil the ending to say that after a spine-tingling snakes-and-ladders chase through knot-paths and farholds, Will is finally on his way out. By the book’s end, readers will be intrigued enough to look forward to his return.