When Alice is sent to live with her “Uncle” Geryon following her father's death, Alice discovers a magical talent that allows her to enter other worlds by reading – and she discovers the dangers associated with it. First, her father comes home one night from work, and Alice (quite accidentally) hears him overtalking to a fairy – a rather threatening fairy. The next day, he announces he is leaving on a business trip by boat (by boat? Hmmm, unusual, for Alice's father...). Alice is sent off to live in Pennsylvania with her “Uncle” Geryon. (Alice is quite sure there is no Uncle Geryon.) Geryon's mansion is equally mysterious. There are invisible servants who seem to magically dust, clean, cook, and so on. A few visible servants – the vacant, absent-minded Emma and the resentful Mr. Black – wait on Alice and Geryon, but provide few answers. And Alice given no classes and is forbidden from entering the library alone, so she is terribly board until Mr. Black sends her there with Emma.
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Soon enough, Alice, who previously followed rules meticulously, is breaking into the library with the help of a half-cat cat named Ashes, whose mother is a cat-like, mysterious creatures who controls the library's labyrinth of bookshelves. Alice only discovers this, of course, after Ashes takes her to visit Isaac, their secret (from Geryon at least) guest. While visiting Isaac, Alice accidentally falls into a magical prison book by reading the first line, fortunately dragging Ashes (who can bring her up to speed on where she is) with her. Alice frees them by defeating the “swarm,” an imprisoned being in the book consisting of many round, rubbery creatures with eyes and sharp beaks.
Alice has discovered she is a Reader, a type of magician so to speak, and Geryon begins to train her as such. Having defeated the “swarm,” it is her first link to magic. She slowly discovers she can summon one, summon hundreds, or become one and bounce off walls at no risk to herself. When he deems her ready, Geryon sends her into a prison book with a tree sprite to defeat this one. She nearly fails because she doesn't want to kill the tree sprite. Geryon helps her at the end for some unknown reason, and she gains a link to her second ability: manipulating trees. Her kind nature, however, appears to be a conflict with what others view as a Reader's nature: to control others, to defeat them. According to End and Ashes, a Reader is by nature cruel. Geryon's view seems to be that the things one controls are human and are not truly alive without the Reader's intervention anyway.
Alice slowly discovers that the fairy and Isaac are both after a dangerous but powerful dragon prison book in Geryon's library. Isaac and Alice find it by stealing a map Mr. Black obtained from an unknown source to trade to the fairy for a way to his own freedom. (Mr. Black is bound to Geryon through the Reader's magic, and Isaac is able to use a siren ability to immobilize Mr. Black while protecting Alice from his ability so they can grab the map and run.) Once they have the book, though, Alice accidentally reads the first sentence and gets both of them into the book. Uh-oh. By working together, however, Alice and Isaac use their abilities (ice, trees, and rubbery creatures with needle-like beaks) to force the dragon to submit. Both therefore have a link to the dragon. But upon leaving, Alice realizes she shouldn't trust Isaac (actually an apprentice to another Reader) and refuses to give him the book. Isaac removes Alice's immunity to his siren ability (which he used to keep everyone else immobilized while they were searching for the book) and gets away.
Geryon is too embarrassed to blame Alice, and everyone is a little awed by her connection to the dragon, so she is safe in spite of Isaac's escape. Alice has learned, however, that there isn't really anyone she can trust besides herself. Everyone has a motive, and the Readers' interactions aren't yet clear enough to her to know which ones are good, bad, or in between. It is implied there will be a sequel in which Alice must develop her connection with the dragon, further develop her Reader abilities in general, and track down information about the fairy's master, for whom she now has a name. While her connection with the dragon proves difficult to tap at first, the ending also implies the beginning of her successful exploration of it.
Best part of story, including ending:
Alice discovers a reality she did not expect actually exists. Once she sees the fairy with her father at the beginning, she readily accepts other aspects of this new reality. The Readers' powers are also described in an interesting way, as pulling on mental threads connecting the Reader to that ability. The end has some loose ends, though. This is typical for the first book in a series, but in some ways less satisfying than those books that can stand alone more easily even when they are part of a series.
Best scene in story:
Rather than any specific scene, I like running references to trust - whether the Readers such as Geryon can be trusted, and if so which ones. I also like the references to the Readers' true nature and its quality (good, bad, cruel, etc).
Opinion about the main character:
Once she sees the fairy, Alice is able to open her mind to other possibilities about the world around her. While she doesn't always understand it immediately, she realizes she can no longer take anything at face value, and acts accordingly.