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Christopher Pike
Tor, 301 pages

Christopher Pike
Christopher Pike is the pseudonym of Kevin McFadden. He was born in New York in 1954, but grew up in California where he lives today. He dropped out of college and worked in a factory, painted houses, and programmed computers before turning to writing. Slumber Party (1985) was his first novel. His other books include The Last Vampire (a series of six books), Remember Me (a trilogy). In 1996, Fall into Darkness was made into a television movie. He also writes the popular children's series Spooksville.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

One of the oldest and most retold fantasy tales in the world is about a person who learns she is really much more than she seems. Christopher Pike has expanded this familiar "coming of age" trope into a young adult novel (first in a projected series) which promises to be much more than your typical find-the-sword-and-rule-the-kingdom sort of adventure.

With her mother dead (in a car accident a year ago) and her father, a long-distance hauler, gone for days at a time, thirteen-year-old Alison Warner has learned to be self-sufficient. And it's not like the isolated city of Breakwater (population: 3000) is rife with danger -- until Ali goes hiking up one of the local mountains and finds herself being stalked by something big and hairy. Something that tries to kill her, leaving her trapped under a rock slide. She manages to dig herself out, just barely, and limps home to safety, but that night she has a strange dream about a threatening darkness called Shaktra and awakens with the certainty that it's something important. Something familiar.

With her best friend Cindy Franken, and local nerd and coffee fiend Steve Fender, Ali returns to the site of the "Bigfoot" attack, hoping to get photographic proof of the creatures. But the Bigfoots ("Bigfeets") have other ideas and Ali has to save herself from certain doom once again, findings more hidden strength within herself that she never expected.

A friendly voice from the heart of a strange hollow tree offers an explanation. The voice -- Nemi -- says the bigfoots are actually trolls, one of many elemental species (including elves, dwarves, fairies, and leprechauns) that inhabit the Earth in another dimension, one invisible to humans. At the top of the mountain lies a magical gate. In two days time the King of the Elves will lead an army of elementals through that gate with orders to kill every human, and only Ali, who was once the sorceress Alosha, can stop the coming war. To do so, she must relearn her magic, but she must do so quickly. There are seven elements: Nemi names earth, water, fire, air, space, and time; the seventh is a secret. Ali must pass a test to regain mastery of each one. Fortunately, Nemi says, in dealing with the trolls, she has already passed two -- the test of earth and the test of water.

Ali knows she's asking a lot to expect her friends to believe her, let alone help her, but the trolls and a grungy little thief who's really a leprechaun help make her case. Ali asks Karl Tanner, a quiet boy she respects and likes, to join the team, soon enough they set off up the mountain in search of the Yanti. Along the journey their loyalty and friendship will be tested along with their individual strengths and weaknesses. And of course, some things are never entirely what they seem, and answers are never obvious, as troubles escalate and knot into deadly puzzles.

Despite elements which will feel "old hat" to many readers -- the helpful voice in the woods which relates important details to Ali, and the tests to relearn magic, for example -- Pike introduces plenty of unique details as well. Best of all, his teenagers speak and act like real kids, and no character is even reduced to being all good nor all bad.

Messages of ecology as well as the value of friendship and the preciousness of life -- all life -- resound in Alosha as strongly as the value of self-discipline and wisdom. A fun read for any grown-up fantasy fan, this book is also an excellent gateway to introduce our favorite genre to younger readers who may not have discovered the joys of SF and fantasy.

Copyright © 2005 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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