Chrissi Camden finds herself on a mysterious and spontaneous journey to the ancient King Roi, who may be able to lift her life-long and deadly curse. Unfortunately, the king calls her on this journey with not just her best friend, the intelligent Phil, but her archenemy and the rebel of their school. Together, the four make their way on a journey they never anticipated in a land much, much different than home, where a supernatural war takes place before their very eyes. As they fight strange and terrifying creatures, pass through eerie places and over treacherous terrain will this unique crew find their way home? And even greater, will they find the legendary king, who hasn't been seen or heard from for many generations?
Rich, three-dimensional characters, an intriguing mystery (or two), and fantastic world-building—this book has the elements that make a fantasy novel come to life. The strengths and imperfections of the main characters drew me in, as did the mystery surrounding Chrissi's lethal curse. I agree with one reviewer that the allegorical style of the journey through the fantasy realm reminded me of Pilgrim's Progress, with a modern twist.
While this novel tackles spiritual and internal issues, it also touches on very real concerns that plague the modern teen. From school bullying to difficulty connecting with parents and other adults, and even the subtle pitfalls in longtime friendships. The narrator also portrayed the teens' voices and emotions well.
It is rare that I will finish, let alone give so high a rating to, a book that jumps around in point-of-view as much as this one does. I would be firmly immersed in the events through Chrissi's perspective, experiencing her emotions and thoughts as my own, then the author would reveal the thought of another character in the scene. This would be fine if the book were written in true omniscient POV (not my favorite, but a valid style). However, much of the narrative starts out in close third (deep in the mind of a single character) then jars us out of that into another's perspective. The author does at least make it clear whose thought we are reading at any given moment, which helps.
The only other issues I had with the book were the constant whining of the school bully during the journey and the slow start to the story. While we get a fantastic picture of Chrissi's life at the beginning, we spend most of it sitting in a tree with her, with no movement to the current plot whatsoever. The character development and mystery we see in all this backstory (basically Chrissi's memories of how life has been growing up with her curse) are intriguing, but they could have been sprinkled in while the current story got moving.
The author's skill in storytelling, deep character development, and gift for sprinkling in clues to both resolve and deepen the mystery wove together to overcome the book's weaknesses—so much that I'm planning to read the sequel.