In this unique, engaging novel, three teenage sisters move from America to the English countryside to stay with their eccentric grandparents after the mysterious disappearance of their mother. Through a series of strange and magical events, Charlemagne, Cairo, and Penny Agonistes discover that their grandparents and the other local residents are time travelers from a lost age and civilization. Each sister experiences flashbacks that link her to a life and identity in the world of Seraphina, where class and religious differences are threatening to boil over into mass annihilation. Meanwhile, in the present, the girls discover a mysterious “aunt” locked away in their grandparents’ house and danger stalks Cairo in the form of multiple foes.
Jude Houghton’s story is a remarkably imaginative piece of fantasy, constructing a whole universe of conflicting cultures and richly developed individual characters. Hamquist and Crakes, a pair of vengeance gods from the old world brought into the present, are a perfect example of Houghton’s complexity. They have murderous intentions, but also hilarious dialogue about their anachronistic wardrobe, providing much appreciated levity. Houghton does share a flaw with many other fantasy writers wherein his vision may be too vivid, crafting a world so complex he delves into elaborate rituals, games, dances, and other details that are irrelevant and cause a lull in the action. Readers with patience for these detours will be rewarded with a smart and wildly entertaining journey.