Most fantasy or sci-fi novels center on a single “surreal” element, such as the presence of alien life, supernatural abilities, terrible dark forces or a bridge to the spiritual world. Ephaidria by Jim Grieco ambitiously tackles all of these concepts, and more, without stumbling over itself or trying to take on too much “strangeness.” From the very start, the novel is packed with mystery, rich descriptions and an unpredictable plot line that stretches the boundaries of readers’ imaginations.
The story starts off simply enough, with the gradual introduction of the four main characters, who are just beginning to discover that they are anything but normal. Josh, Nicki, Suki and Tahani all come from very different spheres on Earth, but each has a gift, even though they don’t fully understand their powers. From being able to see the future and read other people’s mind to healing the body, these youngsters’ abilities are more than enough to populate a novel and make for an interesting read.
However, Grieco has much bigger plans for them, namely saving the souls inhabiting a triple-star system that lies trillions of miles away. Following a cryptic shared dream, these four young heroes are led by mysterious spirits on a journey to another corner of the universe where their strength, will, and youthful powers are put to the ultimate test.
The most notable thing about the writing is the patience that Grieco shows; he clearly wants readers to invest in these characters, and reveals their developing personalities in detail. The juxtaposition of traits, and the perfect matching of their abilities with the characters themselves, shows a commitment to story building and engagement, rather than empty non-stop action. In any YA novel, a premium is often put on excitement and high-energy moments, but there is a balance in this book with thoughtful, philosophical moments, as well as time taken out for vivid descriptions of these fascinating worlds.
After the unlikely quartet gradually links up and realizes that some larger power has drawn them together, they must make their way to Kansas City to find the “archway at the bricked-up cave wall.” From there, the adventure truly begins. While the first half of the book is patient and slow, things speed up once they reach the alien world and learn about the troubles plaguing the four planets of this distant system. New religions, mysterious cultures, alien practices and inexplicable sources of evil are suddenly dropped into the reader’s lap. Whereas earlier in the book Grieco takes his time, the pace begins to feel a bit rushed.
The writing is occasionally simplistic and declarative, but for a YA adventure, it is certainly not inappropriate. Regardless of these moments, each character finds their time to shine in their attempt to save their planetary brethren from the malicious, fear-feeding spirits of Ephaidria – embodied by the Drarbune invasion. The clever inclusion of these characters’ abilities, and the deepening relationships between them, makes for gripping reading, and Grieco weaves a powerful story from disparate threads.
Ephaidria is an immersive, edge-of-your-seat work of YA science fiction. With this much action and originality, the novel will win the author many fans.
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