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(Turner Publishing Company)
During high school, I was the president of my local FFA chapter. (That’s Future Farmers of America for all you urban dwellers.) I thrice competed in the district extemporaneous public speaking contest where I was given a topic, a bit of written material on the topic, and thirty minutes alone in a room to write a speech. I loved it. Every time, I opened with the same line: “Imagine this . . .” and then introduced my topic with an imaginative exploration of the key ideas that forced my listeners to personally engage the material I was presenting on. Or at least that’s what I hoped I was doing. Perhaps it was just a corny and lazily conceived introduction. In any event, I thrice won the district competition, giving me confidence to now again employ the same schtick in reviewing the first two books in Andrew Klavan’s Another Kingdom trilogy, Another Kingdom (published in March 2019) and Nightmare Feast (published in March 2020).
Imagine this: you are a 30-year old failed screenwriter living in Hollywood. A certified loser, you now spend your time with other wannabes and hangers-on at a dumpy café, scraping by on your rich parent’s dime and the nickels you earn as a “story analyst” for a movie studio where you have the great fortune of reading the horrendous submissions in the slush pile. The lone bright spot in your life is Jane Janeway, a beautiful and womanly woman who maybe, perhaps, could-be, would-be your girlfriend if you weren’t such a helpless dud. Stuck in the malaise of postmodernity, and not just any malaise, but the malaise of LA, you wouldn’t even know where to begin to pull yourself out of your own muck if you wanted to.
With that ironic “I’m better than all this” attitude that is a thin veil for the hollowed-out center that is your quiddity, you drive your dump of a Nissan to the studio to talk over your latest slush pile reads with your boss. After a brief meeting, you head back to your car but somehow find yourself wandering aimlessly around back hallways of the studio until you open a door, pass through it, and suddenly, Whammo! you find yourself in some sort of medieval castle, holding a bloodied dagger, while a noble-looking woman lies stretched out before you, bloody and dead. Uh-oh. Medieval-type folks soon rush in and you’re tossed into a dungeon with some other prisoners and a monstrous, but thankfully chained, ogre. Double uh-oh. You’re thinking to yourself clearly I should not have tossed those psychotropic medications my shrink prescribed.
After some harrowing moments with the ogre, the medieval-looking guards return. But as they lead you back through the dungeon door to your show-trial, Whammo! you find yourself right back in the studio. Yup, you think to yourself, I’m getting that prescription refilled. Later you head off to a fancy restaurant for an almost equally horrific encounter with your perfect professor parents and your perfect George Clooney-meets-Elon Musk brother. When you’ve had about enough of their nauseating conversation, you excuse yourself to use the restroom but then Whammo! you pass the threshold of the restroom door, and there you are, right back in medieval-land, again being carted off for trial!
And so it goes, one second you’re in LA, then suddenly upon passing through a door you’re in Galiana, a fairy land filled with wizards, monsters, kingdoms, magic, and a helpful and enormous female-faced rodent named Maude. Soon, you’ll find yourself fighting for your life in both worlds. Chased by a deranged utopian billionaire and his ugly henchman in LA, and by a diabolical wizard and his thugs in Galiana, you can’t seem to catch a break.
But here’s the amazing thing: Even though you’re a certified loser with hardly enough pluck and courage to roll out of bed in the morning, suddenly you find yourself not only confronted by extreme and life-threatening challenges at every turn, but you’re surprisingly capable of overcoming them. As if buried deep within the smoldering spark of your life lay hidden an enormous capacity for adventure, daring, desire, and courage. And perhaps most surprisingly, you discover not only the capacity to survive and take care of yourself, but the capacity to protect others. To sacrifice. To lay down your life for another. To will the good of another. Simply, to love.
To love! Prior to your passage through the crack in reality into Galiana, what did you love? Other than your self-love, which was really a thin veil for self-loathing, what were you willing to sacrifice yourself for? Who were you willing to sacrifice for?
And now? Your loves are increasing in both worlds. And so too your courage and willingness to lay down your life for those you love. The great paradox is even as you’re being asked to suffer more, to give more, and possibly to die, yet your life has meaning for the first time in years. Decades even.
Which is not to say your passage between worlds is not fraught with difficulty. You’re hunted in both worlds after all, asked to play the hero in LA and Galiana, doubting whether your new reality is in fact reality at all or just an enormous fissure in your psyche, forced to come face to face with your past, and your parents, and what good and evil really means. But remember, you don’t have much time to sit in a philosopher’s chair or a psychoanalyst’s couch to figure this all out. You’ve been appointed to bring a talisman to Queen Elinda in order to stop the demonic wizard Curtin and restore the kingdom to its rightful heir. And if that isn’t a big enough task, LA billionaire Serge Orosco has much the same evil designs as wizard Curtin and is as bent to take over his world as Curtin is his. Somehow your sister and a book (Yes, yes! Books can still have meaning!) holds the clue to unlocking the mystery, so not surprisingly the evil forces have aligned in a desperate attempt to capture both your sister and the book. So get up and get on with it! You’ve got a queen to save in one world and a sister to save in another!
Will you succeed? Will you make it to Queen Elinda in time to get her the talisman? Will the thugs kill your conspiracy-theorist sister before you can find her? Is there an end to all this madness?
We won’t really know until book three comes out in the next year. But heck, whatever happens, it sure beats fighting your alarm clock in the morning.
- Jeffrey Wald