Wisecraft Publishing, 2016, 460 pages
It's Halloween at the Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts, and Rachel Griffin is stirring up the dead!
All her life, Rachel has wanted to visit Beaumont Castle in the kingdom of Transylvania, the last known location of her hero, librarian-adventurer "Daring" Northwest. Only falling out of the land of dreams onto her face was not how she had expected to arrive.
Now, the castle is right there, looming over her. Only her best friend, the Princess of Magical Australia does not want to go in, so as to avoid an international incident. But what if the castle holds some clue as to her hero's final fate?
And who was that mysterious figure hanging by the neck she glimpsed in the dreamlands, just before she fell. Could the Dead Men's Ball, where the spooks and ghosts of the Hudson Highland gather once a year on Halloween to dance to the music of some very unexpected musicians, be the key to discovering the hanged man's identity?
Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland continues the adventures of Rachel Griffin, a 13-year-old witch in a Harry Potter world with the serial numbers filed off and tossed in a blender with Deities & Demigods and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Rachel is the daughter of the Duke of Devon, who is very, very rich and British and aristocratic, but also a dashing action hero for the Wisecraft's magical law enforcement, and married to Rachel's mother, who's a beautiful Korean woman, which results in a number of references to Rachel's mother and sisters being extra hot because of that spicy Asian flavor. While poor Rachel, who's dating a boy several years older than her, worries that he'll lose attraction to her if she shows weakness, and also because of her lack of boobs. Ahem. There is a lot of teen drama and girly angst in this book.
The charm of the first book in the Rachel Griffin series has been enough to keep me going, but book three, while it had its moments, seemed to be retreading what happened in book two. The pacing of this series is really becoming a slog. As I have mentioned in reviews of the previous two books, the author has been very open about the fact that this series is based on her home RPG campaign, and she seems to be literally writing all their sessions as part of the story. The problem with this is common to novels based on RPGs: not just the points where the game mechanics and the die rolls intrude into the story (better authors don't do this, and Lamplighter mostly avoids it), but the fact that an RPG campaign is very different from a novel. Player Characters do whatever the player thinks is interesting or fun, not necessarily what makes sense. Players don't need to be consistent or logical, and the GM is often forced to improvise, making things up on the fly and letting the players derail whatever plot he had in mind.
There are a number of places in this story where you can see the PCs derailing the plot.
Also, since it seems like every session is being written into the series, this is the third book and Rachel hasn't even finished her first semester at Roanoke Academy yet.
Despite this being a juvenile Harry Potter knockoff, there are some pretty dark scenes. Rowling wrote some dark scenes too, but Lamplighter goes further — there are explicit references to rape, human sacrifice, baby-killing, and people burning in eternal hellfire. When Rachel isn't pining for her Muggle-born boyfriend (who is apparently the reincarnation of an intergalactic conqueror from an alternate universe or something? I totally didn't get that part) while wondering whether dark, broody bad-boy Von Dread will marry her or her sister (yes, it's confusing), she is trying to save the world from literal demons.
I mentioned eternal hellfire. From the first book, it's been clear this series is going to be some sort of Christian allegory. Lamplighter is stealthier about it than C.S. Lewis, or maybe just slower — I mean, Aslan came out and made it clear what he represented in the first Narnia book. Rachel is still trying to figure out what exactly "angels" are, while also dealing with ghosts, elves, pagan gods, and demons. The World of the Wisecraft is one in which Christianity has somehow been erased from history, leaving only a few traces behind. I assume the series arc will eventually involve bringing God back to their world. I don't know exactly what Lamplighter's theological beliefs are (other than that she's obviously Christian, and married to super-conservative Catholic SF author John C. Wright), but I'm still reading with a bit of skepticism. If she goes all fire-and-brimstone and all the unsaved are going to burn in hell, that would be... well, a disappointing revelation. On the other hand, C.S. Lewis was a little more nuanced than that, so I am hoping Lamplighter is too.
Anyway, this is a strange little series that has cute scenes, dark scenes, and confusing scenes. It's still basically Harry Potter fan fiction, but if you like that kind of thing, it is enjoyable. I just wish we'd actually see the characters get older.
Also by L. Jagi Lamplighter: My reviews of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin and The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel.
My complete list of book reviews.