Book Review – Alessa by Michael Chabon

Just when you think that you have heard it all in the Harry Potter books, fantasy thriller Alessa Shine by J. Wes Watson will make you remember everything. A wizard’s tale set in twentieth-century New York, Alessa Shine follows the misadventures of three teenage sisters who are thrown into a world of magic and adventure. The Watson brothers – Steve and Sam – along with their friend Lisa find themselves stranded at an unknown destination on the East coast of America while their father, a presumed dead professor, suffers a horrible stroke. When the sisters agree to help their friend recover from the trauma, they uncover a dark secret that will change their lives forever…

The premise behind Alessa Shine is that it is part fantasy, part horror. The main character, thirteen-year-old Anna, has been asked to investigate a series of disappearances in the small town of Sayreville. Although the local police are skeptical, Anna sets about investigating the cases herself, believing that the deaths were not accidental and that something, or someone, is hunting them down. As the investigation progresses, Anna comes across several clues that lead her right to the doorstep of an evil presence, which has been plaguing Sayreville for quite some time.

The fantasy genre has been used time and again to create fiction that centres around lost civilizations, strange beings and other interesting locale. In most of these stories, the main characters have some level of magical power. Alessa Shine does not have any of these elements attached to it, however the main character, Anna, certainly does possess fantastic powers. In fact, after reading the first few pages, I was wondering how this novel could be classified as a fantasy novel, but it is not just because the author chooses to write it this way.

What makes Alessa shine above other fantasy novels is the way its plot develops. The book is set in an open environment, so we get to see a lot of travel and what happens to the people who encounter it. It also takes us into the personal life of Anna, who finds herself caught up in an ugly war between Sayreville andalore. These are interesting parts of the story that kept me reading without thinking about the fact that there were thousands of soldiers going back and forth between the two cities.

The world building that occurs in this book is really interesting. The way in which different areas of the city are depicted with a different colour scheme is very imaginative. It makes you realise that although the setting may seem very small, it is much bigger than it seems at first glance. The way in which the city is built, the buildings are laid out and the street names are clearly readable as they are repeated throughout the book, is impressive.

All in all, Alessa Shine is a great fantasy novel. It leaves you craving more of the same, and you will find yourself wanting more of it soon enough. The book’s plot is intricate, the characters well defined and the world building vividly realised. If you enjoy fantasy but also want something that is also very thought provoking and spiritual, then this book will appeal to you.