As a millennial, I am quite familiar with the genre of young-adult (YA) novels and their cinematic adaptations. Ever since the success of the Harry Potter series, countless authors have tried their hands on this increasingly popular subgenre. Although some names are more well-received than others (John Green, Stephen Chbosky, etc.), most YA writers seem to prioritize sentimentality over character development, resulting in cheesy, cliché-ridden reads. But in Emily Sarah Hean’s debut novel, The Bridge Between Worlds, I see the opposite. Not only was the world she built rich and colorful, Emily also introduced us to likable, compelling characters we feel confident rooting for.
The titular ‘bridge between worlds’ can be seen in the novel’s main hero, Ashley Alderbrani. A quirky Canadian high-schooler, Ashley is thrown out of her normal teenage life when she stumbles upon Alania, a secret world hidden beneath her own. A magical world of living, breathing fairy-tale creatures, Alania never ceases to blow Ashley’s 16-year-old mind with its wonders. This is the world where fairy tales come from: where magic exists and is an important part of daily life, where its residents live in secrecy from our human world. Ashley’s presence, however, brings profound change to Alania’s day-to-day order, and some of its inhabitants’ lives are just as altered as our protagonist’s.
These inhabitants are: Neus, an aspiring sorceress with as much personal trouble as her sass; Natan, a handsome fairy boy who is just as kind as he is good-looking; and Branda, the wise old sorceress who seems to possess every bit of Alania’s knowledge, history and tragedy in her eyes. Individually, each of them is a well-written, well-developed character that inspires and engages the reader. Collectively, their selflessness becomes Ashley’s motivation to fight for her new-found magical home. Alania, like all magical worlds, has enemies, who go by ‘magic hunters’: violent radicals from the human world whose sole goal is to exterminate all things magic. Against all odds, Ashley’s presence eventually provides a beacon of hope as she assumes the role of magic’s unlikely guardian, beginning her conflict as she is torn between the two worlds.
Readers of The Bridge Between Worlds, regardless of age, will find a light-hearted and well-intended story; some may find a deeper meaning beyond the surface. To me, the novel is like a tribute to our magical, dreamy imaginations we have as children. We all remember colorizing our childhoods with our ideas of magic and a world other than our own: unicorns and ponies circling rainbows, fairies granting wishes, etc. Somehow, along the way, we stop dreaming, instead focusing on life’s insignificant minutiae. Our ability to dream is lost in our struggles with reality. But as Ashley’s story shows, dreams can be made into reality. Magic is not a product of fiction: it’s totally within our grasp if we choose to believe in its powers. It may sound cheesy, but there are times when what we thought was impossible are gloriously achieved: electricity, man on the Moon, a good Adam Sandler film, etc. In a sense, the novel’s ‘magic hunters’ represent the crushing force of reality, and Ashley symbolizes the light that keep our dreams alive.
Emily has stated that Bridge is the first of a magic-filled YA saga, The Alania Series. This has proven to be a promising start, but I would appreciate some improvements for the sequels. Compared to the supporting characters (Natan, Neus, Branda), Ashley is under-developed as a protagonist. I see some quirks in her actions and behaviour, but I don’t get the full picture of our main hero. Hopefully in the next books, her character’s journey will be further unfolded. Additionally, I would prefer more description for the world of Alania. For a world unfamiliar to the reader, some attention to detail would help with the visualization process. Moreover, it would add a more cinematic feel to the book. Personally, the best part of reading for me is to imagine it as a film.
Emily Sarah Hean is actually studying at Trent University. A first-year student, she has a notable gift for writing clearly shown in The Bridge Between Worlds. With her debut novel, Emily has made an enjoyable addition to the YA subgenre that is worth checking out. For the characters, the storyline and the feels, I am happy to say I look forward to her next book.
Read The Bridge Between Worlds here.