Doorways To Arkomo – Book One of The Spirit Oak’s Gift
Eleven-year-old Sorel stays hidden. She lives in the prince’s keep in the heart of Arkomo with the one-hundred princes – princes who are destined to fulfill the prophecy every one hundred years that ushers in a new era of kingship. But Sorel is a girl and the prophecy also says that two daughters of Arkomo will bring about the downfall of the four kings. So she hides away in a secret room where only her mother and her twin brother Sabian come to visit. With no friends and only a small piece of the keep to call her own, Sorel is lonely. But one day she discovers magic hidden within her, the ability to open doorways between her world and another.
Grace, an eleven-year-old girl with cancer, hides away in her hospital room, where she’s been staying for weeks while doctors try to map out her best treatment options. With only her mom and dad there to keep her company, she’s lonely and afraid. Then something unbelievable happens. As if by magic, a girl appears in her room, stepping through a doorway that leads to another world, a world she has only seen her dreams.
Doorways to Arkomo is the first entry in a fantasy series by author Jacqueline Dooley. As a fantasy there are, of course, kings and mages, prophecies and intrigue, good and evil, and all the other good stuff that comes with the genre. At its heart, though, this first installment of the series is the story of the friendship between Sorel and Grace, two girls desperate to escape their situations, who need to find someone to understand and empathize with them, someone to share their journeys with. And it’s here that the author succeeds the most.
Jacqueline Dooley is a strong writer. She wisely approaches the story through the personal struggles of the main characters and not the over-arching plot that the girls will eventually get caught up in (though she gets into that quickly enough) or long back-stories. I found myself thoroughly invested in the main characters of Sorel and Grace from the first chapters. Their growing friendship and the issues that surround their need for each other is often moving. The author’s fluid prose and excellent pacing build up both the characters and the suspenseful, looming feeling of dread at what awaits everyone in the prince’s keep in Arkomo. it’s a balancing act between the character’s personal issues and the larger plot, but it worked.
The larger plot driving the story is itself intriguing, and quite dark and disturbing, but I won’t spoil any of that here. I’ll just say that the author drops the details on the reader early on and then lets those thoughts hang in the air over everything that happens at the prince’s keep. That allows an edge of suspense to permeate everything.
Where things get curious for me is with the author’s decision to tell the story from each character’s perspective using the first-person. I’ve read books, mostly crime novels, that were told in the first-person, but then interrupted by a third-person narrative about the bad guy. I have always found that odd and often an unnecessary interruption to the narrative. Jacqueline Dooley doesn’t switch to the third-person, but she wanted to tell the story from multiple perspectives, so she tells it from the first-person point of view of each character. I’m glad she was consistent, but I have not read a book written that way before and it took a while to get used to.
Strangely, though, I liked the first-person delivery of both Sorel and Grace. I actually enjoyed their separate first-person perspectives because of the nature of their relationship to each other and to the story. It worked for me. I think that since some of the other characters presented were minor, I was not as interested in their point of view and I wanted to get back to Sorel and Grace.
Overall, this is a good read; a story of friendship and courage told with sensitivity through accessible prose and well-drawn characters. I look forward to the continuation of the story.
One other note, this book does end suddenly. I’m not sure how many installments are planned, but the next one is scheduled for the end of the year. Well, it is the fantasy genre. They like to do that.