By K.B. Hoyle
A year ago Darcy Pennington would have laughed at the idea of magical worlds, prophecies, and talking animals, but everything changed when she visited Cedar Cove Family Camp and stumbled through a gateway. It is the summer before freshman year, and Darcy and her five friends have returned through the gateway to the world of Alitheia. But the return is bittersweet for Darcy as her purpose in the magical realm remains shrouded in mystery. Goaded by Tellius, the boy prince she is prophesied to marry, Darcy petitions an entity called the Oracle to tell her more about her future in Alitheia. But petitioning the Oracle is playing with fire, and she soon finds herself on a perilous journey that will test not only her friendships but her sanity. There is a cost associated with every petition, too, and it is a cost far greater than Darcy ever imagined. The only way to be free of the deadly call of the Oracle is for the petitioner to pay...
K.B. Hoyle's second installment in The Gateway Chronicles expands upon her world, characters, and lore in increasingly unpredictable, challenging ways while staying true to the age range and desires of the cast. The Oracle opens on the "children" being one year out from their return to Cedar Cove, eager to return, and full of questions left over from their first experience in Alitheia. Though we know they are prophesied to ultimately defeat Tselloch, there are endless possibilities of what Hoyle can do with the story between the beginning and the end six books later.
One of my favorite elements of The Oracle is the fact that the antagonistic force in the book is largely up for personal interpretation. Tselloch was introduced as the ultimate villain in The Six, and of course his reign of darkness persists as the main vein of evil in the series, whether personified in his followers the shadow creatures Tsellochim, the mindless slaves Tsellodrin, or as the Great Shadow himself. Though the creatures do make an appearance in this book, the conflict largely comes from an altogether separate force—one the reader is left up to decide. Is it the well-meaning, slightly condescending adults who try to shut things down and ignore the teenagers' concerns? Is it The Oracle, whose hold on Darcy is akin to torture in its intensity and persistence and whose answers are convoluted at best? Or is it Darcy herself, with her youthful, selfish desires acting as the driving antagonist?
Equally interesting is the way that Hoyle develops the magical world of Altiheia further here, introducing other lands like Mayim in the overall world of Orodreos through a flurry of new characters that enter the scene when Darcy must set out on her quest. The lore deepens, more history of the world and the Ecclektos line is revealed, and several unique magical compositions are explored right from the very beginning. As Hoyle dives into the layers of her world, it's equally gratifying to learn that while all are rich, not all of them are lovely, and even the wise, super-powerful elders and magical beings who mentor Darcy and her friends are capable of severe error and have made many in their respective pasts. In a way that both comforts and frightens as happens every time a revered adult reveals themselves to be fallable, Darcy has to learn to understand and accept them even as her world grows more complicated page by page.
Because of all these elements, The Oracle introduces a level of nuance that was lacking in The Six, merely because we are now familiar with the world and ready to challenge the first picture we were presented. Right from the start, Darcy challenges her role in the prophecy which kickstarts the driving action in the book and leads to repercussions and information that follow the series to the end. Each character takes on new shades of color, relationships deepen and are strained, and living and operating in the world of Alitheia suddenly means so much more than showing up and surviving in hidden keeps. This installment sets a tone of growing responsibility, sacrificial love, the importance of trust, the need to ask questions, and put old theories to the test.
The Six gives a taste of what K.B. Hoyle is capable of and sets the scene. The Oracle begins to execute the overarching story with boldness and beauty. Just wait until you see what The White Thread brings.
10 out of 10 Magpies