This is the first book in a series, a middle-grade fantasy novel following the life of Tal, a boy who wakes to find his whole world changed. His father is missing and presumed dead, his mother is gravely sick, and his two siblings depend on him. But with his father missing, his family is in need of a Sunstone, a magical stone that provides light and warmth to the family, and allows them entrance to a forbidden part of his world, which consists of a castle of seven towers. But everything seems to have turned against Tal: his cousins are indifferent at best, one of the authority figures does everything in his power to ruin Tal’s chance for success, and Tal’s siblings are too young to be of help.
For a middle-grade reader, this book is a “gateway” novel to the world of fantasy. With sunstones and magic shadows that change shape in helpful and sinister ways, to magic involving light and sound, to a caste system with more hidden beneath the surface than Tal could ever expect, the author establishes a new and intriguing world.
This first book focuses on Tal’s attempts to secure a new Sunstone for the family. He tries to win it, but when his talent is foiled by the evil Sushin. Tal even ignores protocol and tries to secure a Sunstone from the Empress, with disastrous results. Finally, Tal finds the Icecarls, a group of people he had never heard of—non-magical people who live on the ice. They, too, are in search of a Sunstone, and they assign Tal to work with Milla, an antagonistic girl on her way to become a Shield Maiden—whose primarily goal seems to be killing Tal! Here, Tal is challenged by his inability to use his magic or his protective shadow and must use courage the way the warrior-like Milla does. They confront extreme cold, darkness, and giant beasts called Merwin.
I won’t ruin the ending. I’ll only say that it was a quick read that establishes an interesting world and, for young readers of fantasy, is an intriguing start to what promises to be a compelling series.