"Their bonds were indeed intertwined, strong enough to never be broken."

Danger disrupts the peaceful town of Danville Heights in K.N. Smith's mesmerizing young adult fantasy. Smith spins an intricate tale that stretches across time and worlds, where secrets and revelations emerge and forces of good and evil clash.

Five high school friends—Kinsu, Chase, Rhee, Jordan, and Alex—share a bond of brotherhood. Like anyone suddenly thrust into the awkward stages of being a teenager, the boys face the usual pressures of school plus personal and social angst mixed with excitement and uncertainty about the uncharted waters of life beyond high school. They thrive on sportsmanship and dutifully complete routines of homework and chores... until everything changes.

Midway through Smith's tale, while the boys enjoy a celebratory night following a football game, they cut through a prohibited forest preserve. Unbeknownst to them, there's an unearthly energy source hidden within the preserve. It empowers them with advanced perceptions of sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. This occurrence entangles them with an event that happened twenty years prior in the preserve, which Smith depicts in the novel's opening pages. Now, the boys are fatefully linked to this event and its enigmatic peoples forever. Yet, Smith takes her time in revealing these connections and backstory in a rather satisfying way, where everything comes full circle by the novel's end.

The mysterious energy source introduces the reader to a special race of light beings who are peacekeepers from the land of Naculea. They are concerned regarding the fate of the nearby town, Sandry Lake. The town is now derelict and under the control of the evil Druth and his ruthless "gang of hooligans." The Naculeans call up the Dark Stranger to guide and help the five boys with their new abilities to stop Druth, who ultimately wants to become all-powerful by assuming all five amplified senses unto himself, which would be detrimental to everyone. Meanwhile, the boys' brotherly bond strengthens as they discover their newfound power while fending off goons who continuously attack them. They finally meet The Dark Stranger, who foretells their true mission. With the help of prominent characters coming into play during the novel, the five boys band together in a consequential fight against Druth to save humanity.

In Smith's tale, the action is full-throttle and never loses momentum from beginning to end. The award-winning author clearly demonstrates her prowess with one of the most original young adult superhero debuts in the genre. Bound in a beautiful book cover with appealing artwork that elicits a comic book feel, Smith confidently touts her capacity to craft an engaging coming-of-age tale that immediately pulls readers in with her expressive writing and adrenaline-packed plot.

With her diverse cast and well-imagined setting, Smith is particularly skilled at capturing the nuances of teens full of insecurities, experiencing the triumphs and defeats that come with being tethered to a small town. Despite the heightened senses each of the boys inherit, Smith portrays them in their ordinariness as youth living normal, everyday lives with college aspirations and high future goals, such as Kinsu's hopes of winning a music contest or Chase's baseball career dreams. And then there's Jordan, who seeks answers to understand the painful history of his own family. Even as these boys willingly assume the incredible risk before them to combat supernatural forces, they are still teens first.

As an origin story, the forte of Smith's narrative is in those very moments when she carefully and methodically allows the boys, individually and collectively, to discover their powers and purpose. Though having the superpowers emboldens them and strengthens their brotherhood, they are humbled by the enormous weight on their shoulders as they struggle to embrace their motivations and quest. Their journey from teen to adulthood is difficult in myriad ways, and Smith tenderly allows them to be vulnerable and human.

The storyline is set up nicely by the author with an implication of more to come in future novels, where she may be free to explore further these developing teens as they venture into the real world beyond their small hometown with bigger and greater missions. Infusing an equal blend of mystery, drama, fantasy, and the paranormal, Smith renders an optimistic, appealing narrative with its diverse representations and fully realized fleshed-out characters. Though billed as a young adult novel, anyone can easily appreciate reading this book, even if they are not a true fan of the fantasy genre. Overall, this is an engrossing novel that serves as a promising beginning to a wonderful new series.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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