Despite considerable parental disapproval, Leone runs her own comic shop. She’s a geek and she’s gleefully happy as such along with her friends Courtney and Shadi
But even in their geekiest dreams, they never expected and actual dimensional traveller to fall from the ceiling, carrying a magical staff
Soon they find adventures and dungeon crawls are so much more fun with 20 sided dice than they are in the real world, with oni, dimension hopping and ominous prophecies promising troublesome side quests
I feel that this book is a prequel to the greater story. Clearly the meat of the story is going to happen when Leone, her sister and her friends reach Abinar’s home. This means this whole book kind of feels terribly rushed to get to that point.
We have Abinar drop in from the alternate world and everyone… kind of just runs with that. People seem to accept it extremely quickly. Yes someone just appearing from nowhere is a little odd – but “he’s a wizard from another dimension because of how he’s dressed” is a bit of a stretch. Especially since absolutely no-one really asks him questions – not where he’s from, not why he’s there, not what he wants – they just kind of take him in.
This whole part of the book is frustrating, they take him home and play D&D – we’re establishing the geek credentials of the cast, but someone just appeared from nowhere and you decide to play tabletop RPGs rather than ask him any questions at all? It just makes no sense
The whole story for a large chunk of this book feels forced as we’re desperately railroaded to the other world. Abinar Just appears, they don’t question him. Leone feels the need to take him home and keep him with her (why? She knows nothing about this guy!), which means she happens to be nearby when the bad guys show up, drop the markings of the Chosen One on her which leads happily to the prophetic dream with a nice guide on what to do next.
It kind of makes Leone not a very compelling character. She is certainly rare in the genre, a Black female protagonist and a Black female geek as well – geek culture is universally presented as white, straight and male – to have these very very very geeky Black female friends be central to the story is excellent. I like a lot about her – but so far her abilities and drive come from the woo-woo. I think it will be a lot lot lot better with future books because then we would be following the story for where the author wants to take and then get to see a whole lot more of her personality (and, don’t get me wrong, I like what I’ve seen so far but I would love to see more of her when she’s not scrambling and being driven by the plot itself). We do have some moments where Leone directly addresses race… but they feel a little… PSA-y at times.
Once Leone and her friends reach the other world, things pick up a little more. We have some world building, and a world setting with strong Shinto and Buddhist elements which I haven’t seen a great deal. So far it’s not especially deep (it’s a little Wikipedia-ness at times) but it has only just being introduced