This pretty, gorgeous, absolutely irresistible package of a book is so much fun to hold and to have on your shelves. I bought it for the hype and I am 100% satisfied with my purchase. As a book collector, this will live on my shelf forever and look beautiful.
But did I love it??
...No. Sadly. I tried so, so hard to love this novel—but at the end of the day, when you strip the marketing, the blacked out pages, and the mysteriousness of the blurb from consideration... the story itself didn't do much for me.
I've been sitting on this all day, what to say for this review. Because after reading so many other reviews on Goodreads, Instagram, TikTok, you name it.. it seems like it's just me in this corner of hey, it was cool, but it wasn't amazing? I was bored, frankly. And I thought the plot struggled to make itself known between the choppy descriptions of really cool things and the goobledygook name pronunciations.
Not much... happens. I mean, in a very literal sense, the characters move from space to space quite frequently and talk, a LOT, to a lot of people in various settings. But my overall feeling for 80% of this 500 page "prologue" was one of looking at the metaphorical clock, going hey... I'd love for the story to start soon, thanks, and then... at the very, very last page, it felt like we were finally getting somewhere. (I hold a large candle of hope that due to the ending's takeoff, this "prologue" was meant to feel this way and the next volume will not have this issue.)
Reig and Trad are two twins who live in a different realm/reality within an organization known as the Octunnumi. Like a fantastical version of the Men in Black concept ( I am really, REALLY reducing the complexity of this book's premise with this comparison, and I know that, but this is a good likeness if you strip away the excess), the Octunnumi exists but the world of Earth doesn't know they exist. They pop in and out of these portal doors and affect/change/manipulate things in our world and we never, ever know they're there. They interface with magical beings and influence humans' opinions on art, culture, design, and technology.. all from behind the unseen curtain.
In the realm of the Octunnumi, Reig and Trad travel from fantastical section of the realm to fantastical section of the realm like an interdimensional train station/antique store/urban market hybrid that would make an AMAZING visual cornucopia of a movie. The descriptions are lush and the areas of the realm sound awesome. A playground for the imagination in every sense of the word.
But what are Reig and Trad doing, exactly, and what happens in this prologue?
Well, while still avoiding spoilers, let me just say... not much.
There's a plot thread of children, presumed dead from a failed rescue operation ages past, who have been identified as alive. This is the "core" plot of sorts, as Reig and Trad were on the rescue team and never got over this loss - so to find out these children are alive, yet still missing, has spurred the two boys into action to relocate them. The core plot, as much as it can be called such, is the twins moving around the realm talking to people and gathering people/ideas/things together loosely to work toward finding these missing children.
There's also a plot thread of Reig and Trad's old friend, Nicolas, who was forcefully ejected from the Octunnumi around the time of the failed rescue operation and condemned to a life on Earth due to his forbidden love with a girl outside his race. This comes back to bite the Octunnumi organization in the butt when Nicolas arrives on their doorstep many regenerations later (oh, did I mention all of these operatives endlessly regenerate/reincarnate instead of die? Yes, they do. It is unnecessarily confusing) with a mystery of his own and ulterior motives.
And, of course, there are Reig and Trad themselves. They were the most interesting to me at the start, as there was a fair amount of foreshadowing involved regarding a meta Narrator who interacts with the boys directly (the author of this book, self-inserted as their Narrator), some allusions to the some Things that will Happen Soon and other such nuggets. I was intrigued at their history and their future. However, like many other things about this novel, my fascination soon turned to boredom and eventually shifted into flat out exasperation as hundreds of pages flew by and Reig and Trad remained exactly the same. No character development or growth, no insights into their motivations and/or feelings of attachment, and ultimately no sense of what they cared about and/or wanted to happen. Unlike most novels, the main characters you get on page one are the exact same as the ones on the last page.
As you can see from my extremely scattered thoughts and reactions, this was an ultimately polarizing read. I liked elements, I disliked other elements, and ultimately I didn't love it. But am I intrigued enough to see if my dislikes are solved in volume two? Heck yes.
We'll see what happens next.
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Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.