Twelve-year-old Alexa Daley lives in a world that is entirely bordered by walls - enormous, looming walls, that are supposed to keep the townspeople safe from lurking evils from the forests outside. Most people are unsettled by the thought of what lies beyond the walls, but not Alexa. In fact, when she accompanies her father on their annual visit to the town of Bridewell, the thing she is most excited about is the fact that from the window of her bedchamber, she can catch a glimpse of the world beyond the walls. This year she's particularly thrilled because she has "borrowed" her mother's spyglass so she can get a better view.
Alexa loves being in Bridewell because her father (the mayor of a nearby city) is usually too busy to pay much attention to her because of his duties, and that means she can explore to her heart's content. Her special friends include the librarian, Grayson, and Warvold, the founder of Bridewell itself. She has one enemy at Bridewell, an unpleasant guardsman named Pervis Kotcher, who has an abiding dislike for her and tries to thwart her at every turn. This summer, though, an unexpected turn of events, coupled with an astonishing discovery, leads to Alexa finally being able to realize her dream of going outside the walls. What she finds there is almost too much for a twelve-year-old to bear, as Alexa finds that she is the only one with the knowledge to prevent a catastrophe from befalling Bridewell.
This was an interesting beginning to a middle-grade fantasy series. Alexa is a character who is very alone - she moves in an entirely adult world, and never appears to see another child during the entire course of the book. Her character is compelling, and events move swiftly from one exciting or intriguing scene to the next - and because of this I believe younger readers will be swept up in the story and perhaps not have some of the questions that remained with me at the end of the book. I wondered at the timing, for example. It seemed a bit contrived that Alexa should happen upon a way out of the walls by chance, only to find that time is running out and a conspiracy is about to culminate a plan that's been years and years in the making that she is just in time to try to thwart. There was no apparent reason for the conspirators to have waited so many years to initiate their dire plans, at least not that I could see.
Children who love books in which animals are characters, such as the Narnia and Redwall series, are sure to find this appealing. I found the little squirrel to be particularly charming, in a manically heroic sort of way. There are many other appealing elements as well, including trapdoors and secret passages, mysterious stones with puzzles in them, and confusing prophecies. The concept of walling out parts of our world for various reasons is an intriguing one that offers young readers fodder for discussion and thought.
This is my first read for the Once Upon a Time III challenge.
Books in the Land of Elyon series:
1. The Dark Hills Divide
2. Beyond the Valley of Thorns
3. The Tenth City
4. Into the Mist
The Dark Hills Divide (#1 in the Land of Elyon series) by Patrick Carman; narrated by Aasne Vigesaa (Brilliance Audio, 2005)
Also reviewed at:
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "Overall, I think that this book will appeal to younger fans of fantasy novels. The plot has plenty of twists and turns, and the atmosphere varies from brooding menace to magical possibility."
A Patchwork of Books: "...this book is somewhat similar to a lot of other fantasy/adventure novels that I've read. However, it had many of its own quirks and original aspects that made it enjoyable to read and allow me to get involved enough to want to know what happens in the next book!"