Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

Review: Through the Portal by Justin Dennis

Through the Portal book cover
Image from Justin Dennis; used by permission

Title: Through the Portal (Portal #1)

Author: Justin Dennis

Genre: Fantasy

When Jem and Oliver accidentally fall through a portal to another world, they quickly discover that all is not well here. The first person they meet almost gets them killed. They’re only narrowly saved when Sierra, a shy farm girl from a nearby town, uses illegal magic to help them escape. Allowed to stay with her family while they try to figure out a way back home, Jem and Oliver begin to learn of magic and the Regime that is oppressing it. It isn’t until the Regime kills a woman that the three kids realize they have to do something to stop the Regime from taking over completely. After being framed for a crime they didn’t commit and banished from the town, Jem, Oliver, and Sierra take off on an adventure across this strange world in an attempt to defeat the Regime. New creatures and new kinds of magic are around every corner, but so are dangers that could have them wishing they were back safe at home.

I seem to be on a high fantasy kick lately. (In other words, I read two books of the same genre in a row.) And strangely enough, I’m not really sure what enticed me to pick this book up. I guess it just generally sounded good.

I liked Jem. He was the non-adventurous best friend who got dragged along – but he was the main character. He wasn’t really bold or adventurous, but he was loyal, and once he committed to something, he wasn’t going to give up (or let other people give up).

Sierra is the exact opposite of the brave and dangerous rebel woman that goes along with this type of high fantasy – that was her sister. She was the timid, indoctrinated one who questioned, but didn’t dare voice her dissent. I didn’t like her as much as I could have – she came across as wimpy sometimes – but she wasn’t bad.

For such a rebellion-style plot, there was surprisingly little traditional rebelling. I think there were a grand total of two scenes where any of the main characters actually confronted a Regime guard. It was a more subtle form of rebellion: slowly breaking through the lies, doing what the Regime said not to do in order to prove that the consequences were just lies.

The magic was fun. A little simplistic by high fantasy standards, sure. But it’s exactly the kind of magic I’ve imagined for real life. It wasn’t exactly integral to the plot, but it was enjoyable.

This is frustrating. All the best parts would be spoilers!

I could barely tell this was an indie book – the key word there being barely. For the most part, the writing was good, but every once in a while the emotional description would be slightly corny. Strangely enough, it was less of a problem later on in the story.

I enjoyed Through the Portal. It had its own originality by taking the traditional adventurous hero and reluctant hero’s friend and turning it on its head by making the friend the main character. Even though I enjoyed it, though, I’m not sure if I want to read the next book in the series. I think this one satisfied me.

I received a free review copy of Through the Portal from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

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