I miss the days when my book reading friends and I eagerly awaited the next Harry Potter tome. I’m always looking for a fantasy novel with the wizard academy trope, like The Magicians by Lev Grossman or Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Even the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo falls into that category. So when I read the summary of Scott Reintgen’s book, A Door in the Dark, I grinned when I saw it has a school of magic.
Here’s a recap: thanks to a glitch in the magic-based teleport system, Ren Monroe, a brilliant wizard at the Balmerick Academy, finds herself and several other students misplaced in a dangerous wilderness outside of their city of Kathor. Ren becomes the de facto leader of the expedition. She needs to get the group back home while facing the obstacles of dark and deadly sorcery all around them.
I just finished reading Reintgen’s Nyxia trilogy a couple months ago, and I enjoyed it. So, when I found out he had a new book coming out March 28, I went ahead and pre-ordered it back in December. A Door in the Dark is a Young Adult fantasy and the first installment in the Waxways series. As of the writing of this review, it is #2 on the New York Times bestseller list for Young Adult Hardcover.
And speaking of covers, I have to make a side note and mention the beautiful artwork for this book. The combined illustration by Bose Collins and the jacket design by Greg Stadnyk has made this one of my favorite book covers ever. Even the interior typography by Irene Metaxatos is gorgeous in its simplicity. I usually order the ebook version, but I’m glad I accidentally clicked on the hardcover button instead.
Okay, enough graphic design talk. What about the story?
First of all, Reintgen does some excellent worldbuilding for his tale. There’s the Heights and the Lower Quarter. There’s an awesome transportation system I’d like to try. And there may be dragons.
As I mentioned earlier, this novel begins at a wizarding academy, much like, well, you probably know which series I’m referring to. In my opinion, the story’s tone more closely resembles the last few Harry Potter books. And honestly, it reminds me more of The Magicians. The characters of Door are closer in age to those in Grossman’s books. Saying that, Door doesn’t feel like a rehash of other wizard academy tales. None of the background gets in the way of the story; Reintgen has weaved it in seamlessly.
Another thing Reintgen does well is handling a large cast of characters. While reading his Nyxia series – which ends up having a larger cast than Avenger’s Endgame – not once did I get confused about who was who. Door has a smaller group of characters, so I felt he had even more of a chance to explore the psyche of Ren, the protagonist. This story felt more dark, more angsty, than his Nyxia books.
Which leads me to my next point about A Door in the Dark. By the way, there may be some spoilers in the next few paragraphs.
Not a criticism, but more of a curiosity. I’m wondering what Reintgen’s intentions are when it comes to Ren’s character arc. I noticed Door is written in third person from Ren’s viewpoint. This creates a little distance between the reader and the narrator. In Reintgen’s Nyxia series, Emmet Atwater spoke to the reader in first person. I felt I understood Emmet as a protagonist. With Ren, we get her thoughts and emotions, but . . .
I really liked Ren. She is intelligent, talented. But flawed. She is moody and, to be honest, a little self-righteous. Okay, and whiny. But still likable at first. However, as the story progresses, she becomes more obsessed with getting revenge. She makes some morally ambiguous decisions. By the end of the book, I didn’t quite like her as much.
But let me explain.
This makes her more interesting. I’m guessing Reintgen wrote in third person on purpose to achieve this. Is Ren a hero? Is she evil? She has some demons she wants to banish. She takes advantage of some opportunities to get what she wants. But you may lose a little respect for her.
So, if you’re looking for a protagonist to give you warm fuzzies, Ren Monroe may not do it for you. You may identify with her. You may find her interesting. You may actually like her. But, just letting you know, that might not happen.
I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and see what happens in the next installment of the Waxways series. Afterall, as the story progressed, I changed how I felt about other characters as well. I am even wondering if the next book will show the story through another viewpoint character. Just curious.
Would I recommend A Door in the Dark? Definitely. I had fun reading it. It tackles issues like entitlement and classism which affects Ren in a way that reminded me of the cliques in high school.
And don’t we all have a little bit of Ren Monroe in our minds? Both the good and the dark sides? Be it as it may, anyone who wishes they could study at a wizarding academy will probably like this novel.
In case you’re interested, Scott Reintgen has an online course in fiction writing. It’s called Level Up and it will take your writing to, well, the next level. I learned a lot from it. It goes beyond the basics. It’s available here:
Level Up Your Fiction Writing (Writing Mastery) | Udemy
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