Book Review: Through the Portal by Justin Dennis

I am delighted to have the chance to offer book reviews here on the blog! From time to time, I will also feature author interviews and giveaways in addition to their book review. First up is a YA Fantasy from author Justin Dennis. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my interview with Justin!

Book Title: Through the Portal

Author: Justin Dennis

Type of Book: YA Fantasy

Book Description

What’s the worst part of falling through a portal to another world and not being able to get back? When the first person you meet almost gets you killed by a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon. Luckily, Jem and Oliver, two boys who were about to start their first year in high school, are saved by Sierra, a farm girl who is itching to get out of her small town. Together, the three of them set off on a quest to defeat the evil Veroci Regime that is stealing all the magic from the world, but can they do it before the Dragon catches up with them?

Cege’s Review

The one thing that I want to clarify right from the get go is that this is Jem’s story through and through. Although his best friend Oliver is an important supporting character, Through the Portal is all about Jem.

When we first meet Jem, he’s a quiet, smart, put-upon young fellow who is living his life in the shadow of his wealthy, gregarious, impulsive best friend Oliver.  And it’s Oliver’s hijinks that get them both accidentally sucked through a portal into a parallel world to Earth called Callisto.  Once there, the boys quickly learn that Callisto has been slowly falling under the rule of the Veroci Regime and that isn’t a good thing.

All people in Callisto are able to use magic (but only if a magic source is available to them-which is part of Veroci’s evil plot to control Callisto.)  As Jem and Oliver become more at home in Callisto, they decide that they want to join the rumored rebellion and fight against the Veroci Regime.

Jem is joined by a young farm girl, Sierra, who has her own reasons for wanting to get away from where she has grown up. After an unfortunate incident forces their hand, Jem, Oliver, and Sierra set off to find the rebels.  This adventure takes them through many of the regions of Callisto, where they learn more about this strange world they’ve fallen into, and Jem becomes more and more wedded to his new life.

Through the Portal is the first book in a planned trilogy by the author, and introduces us to the main characters who will likely be integral parts of the future books while laying the groundwork for what looks to be an epic battle between the Callisto rebels and the Veroci Regime.

I know from my own writing that telling a story here on Earth can be difficult enough- creating a whole new world with its topography, inhabitants, native creatures, etc. can be mind-boggling. I felt like the author handled this well and did a nice job of giving us the important details without going overboard.

The action throughout the story is well-paced. Jem visits almost every region in Callisto, and each one has its own unique culture.  He and his friends have to do some fast thinking to avoid getting caught by the Regime, but at the same time they are just kids trying to figure out their next move.  So they need help along the way, and sometimes their forward progress required some time standing still to learn some valuable lessons.

We also have a fledging romantic subplot brewing between Jem and Sierra. It’s evident throughout the book that they are drawn to each other, but they have to deal with their own individual growing pains. The author handles this delicately and really offers up the promise of more to come without being overt about it.

My main critique of the story is that the plot wasn’t what I expected it to be.  From the description, you might hazard a guess that this was a going to be a “coming-of-age, best friends” kind of story where we see the growth of not only Jem and Oliver individually, but of the bond of their friendship.  That wasn’t the case at all.  Oliver is relegated fairly early on to a supporting character, and Jem takes the forefront for the remainder of the book.  That doesn’t deter from this book having a solid plot, but it did distract me for a period of time.

The second thing that threw me off a bit was that although I think the author intended in some places for us to see Jem as becoming more assertive in his thoughts/actions,  he came across instead as immature and whiny.  (Of course, he is a teenager so that lends credibility to the character.)

There are some minor spelling/grammatical issues throughout but nothing that detracts from the storyline.

The book ends on a high note. Jem and Sierra have just fought a major battle and won, and finally found their way to the Callisto rebels. But it’s clear that this is just the beginning and the author has a lot more in store for us, so I will read the next installment.

Cege’s Rating:


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*Reviewer Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary copy of Through the Portal for review.*

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