Fantasy often leans toward the “young adult” crowd and Hannah Jeffers-Huser embraces this relationship in her new novel, What Lies Beyond. What Lies Beyond concerns two twenty-somethings named Adair and Halona whom fate brings together to save their kingdoms. They each have with a mark on their face that correlates to a well-known prophecy which identifies them as a Peace Bringer. Two contrasting cultures unite in this action-filled debut.
What Lies Beyond lives where screwball comedy meets high adventure. Prince Adair grew up in a castle as an only child with a king and a queen for parents. Halona belongs to a semi-nomadic warrior tribe, and she lives with her patriarch father and three adult brothers. These two overcome adversity to form an alliance despite a gulf between worldviews. However, they also overcome personal tragedies together. When Halona, a budding doctor, creates a magical healing bond with Adair, she sets an excellent metaphor for the therapeutic qualities of friendship.
The plot of What Lies Beyond simply does not drag, and hits many of the hallmarks of an exciting fantasy story. From the moment that Adair and Halona meet in the third chapter, they accelerate from mutual antagonism through friendship and into romance. Each also trains with a deadly weapon to keep them safe from the dangers that lurk Salacir. Adair and Halona dispatch assassins, enemy soldiers, and rivals at a dizzying rate that ensures peace for the entire continent of Salacir.
What Lies Beyond does not try to reinvent the wheel by explaining to genre fans how magic works or what a castle looks like. The quirks and vibrancy of Salacir could come across more strongly at times, though I suspect they shall further develop with the book series. While the conflict centers on the personal differences between Adair and Halona, a more complicated villain would have really raised the stakes. However, the visions both characters experience foreshadow danger in the books to come.
As the first book in a presumptive series, What Lies Beyond introduces us to the fantasy kingdom of Salacir. It tells a tale of how romance can blossom between completely opposing viewpoints to unite cultures. The perilous journey takes infrequent breaks for comedic effect and action sequences but mostly chooses to meditate on interpersonal bonds. What Lies Beyond presents a quick escape from reality into a classic adventure story. I eagerly await the sequel.
Three out of five stars.
Page count: 209
Favorite quote: “The two kissed for as long as they could to make up for the time they would lose.”