Reviewer’s note: As per the author’s note in the front of ‘The Crystal Key’, you need to read these books in order, starting with ‘The Hollow Boys’. Therefore, this review may contain spoilers for book one.
Douglas Smith’s imagination and empathy are on full display in ‘The Crystal Key’ as Will, Case, and Fader navigate being both heroes and teenagers. The second book of the ‘Dream Rider Saga’ has a very direct purpose for all three: move forward. For Will, this means finding a way to overcome the agoraphobia that has kept him a prisoner for nearly a decade. He can walk freely with his girlfriend in his dreams, but not during his waking hours. Will believes that finding out what happened to his parents will reveal clues to his condition. Finding out where his parents are now would be an added bonus.
Case wants to find a way to overcome the guilt she feels while staying in Will’s building. Aside from her need to remain independent of Will’s wealth, there’s the fact most of her friends, including the former Hollow Boys, are still living on the streets. Working with Will on a shelter for Toronto’s street kids helps, but her new role will take getting used to.
Fader is having a hard time staying present as his ability to evade notice becomes something more and dangerous. He’s disappearing from the sight and minds of even the people he’s closest to.
Will’s focus is further narrowed when ‘watchers’ appear in his dreams and intruders begin popping in and out of the warehouse floors of his tower. It seems they might all be looking for the same thing, any artifacts brought back from his parent’s last expedition. But the search is interrupted when Will is suddenly forced out of his body, Case is forced out of the tower, her Voice screaming and confused and Fader fades from the world entirely.
Their powers have become stronger and each must learn to contend with their greater gifts, all while figuring out what triggered the growth. As you might imagine, anything, an artifact for example, granting that kind of power would be highly sought after, hence watchers and visitors. The question becomes who will find it first?
‘The Crystal Key’ is even more fast-paced than the first book, with the three main characters barely pausing for breath. With the fate of the entire world or multiple worlds at stake, taking a moment could prove disastrous for Will, Case and Fader. They have to come to grips with their new reality as fast as possible or risk losing the most important clue Will has found regarding the disappearance of his parents to date: the Crystal Key.
Of course, figuring out what the key is and where it came from leads to more questions, and adventures in universes adjacent to their own, all of which combines into a compelling story. While I usually set aside certain hours to read, I found myself picking up ‘The Crystal Key’ when I should have been doing something else and I finished the book in only two days.
As before, I enjoyed Smith’s characterisation, as Will, Case, and Fader continue to bond. I loved the humour that sparks between them, particularly from Fader as he defines and redefines his ‘hero’ origin story. Will and Case’s relationship continues to evolve. Case grows a lot in this book and I found myself liking her even more.
Revelations toward the end promise more thrills ahead as Will continues to piece together what happened to his parents and, more importantly, what happened to him. Where did his power come from? For that matter, where did Case’s Voice and Fader’s Fading come from? Could their abilities be related in some way? I look forward to finding out.
(pub: Spiral Path Books, 2023. 384 page book and ebook. Book: Price: $19.99 (US), £19.99(UK) .ISBN: 978-1-92804-829-9. Ebook: Price: $ 2.99 (US), £ 2.99 (UK). ASIN: B0BJ1T51W5)
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