Adina Rishe Gewirtz, Blue Window, Walker Books Australia, 1 June 2018, 576pp., $24.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9780763660369
This portal fantasy is based on a familiar pattern where the chosen one arrives in a land struggling to establish a lost equilibrium and only they have the special abilities or, in this case the magical powers, to fix the problem – whatever that may be. Here there are five (five!) siblings who leave their safe and comfortable home when they fall through the blue window into another world – a land full of magic, of people whose appearance is not permanent but can change from animal/ugly to human/beautiful. As the five never change, their appearance is a source of fascination, danger and also power for them.
The five children are 13-year-old twins Max and Susan, 11-year-old Nell, 8-year-old Kate and Jean who is the youngest. The story starts with Max then moves on to Susan and down the line until finally we get to little Jean. This technique gives the reader a focused point of view and achieves a layering of interpretations as the story progresses. You see each character from the inside and then on the outside as it were. It creates a challenge for the author in that each sibling has to have a distinct personality and hold the reader’s attention, when the reader is already invested in another point of view. These five narratives are interspersed with snippets of prose poetry from a mysterious Exile, whose identity is not revealed until close to the end, and whose contributions are confusing.
The world the children have fallen into is very dark, dystopian, grim and dangerous, so their constant anxiety to find a way to return home is very real. They have to contend with a mind-bending Genius, zombie-like Slashers, betrayals and deceits and their own rivalries and quarrels. Presenting this world from five (six counting the Exile) points of view makes this book very long indeed. But by the time we get to Jean’s contribution the pace has quickened considerably, the Exile makes more sense and the story comes to a rapid conclusion where all is settled and satisfactorily explained. The book may have been tighter, better paced and more focused with just three siblings. Five seems to be too many and makes the book too long.
That said, the book is rich in fine descriptive passages, an ethical sensibility, a warm understanding of humanity, and vivid and exciting confrontations. These qualities may keep you reading through the longueurs especially if you enjoy an original fantasy.
Reviewed by Mia Macrossan