Max, Theo, and Noah probably wouldn’t have explored Old Man Gabe’s house on their own. The stories they’ve heard about the old man are just too creepy. But when Old Man Gabe dies, the three boys meet Rebecca at his sparsely-attended funeral. Although Rebecca is Gabe’s granddaughter, she’d never met him and, being the adventurous type, she’s determined to get a look at the house he’s left to her family. Her parents plan to sell the house without even going through the books in the library and she is wants to get a look at the ones her grandfather wrote. Rebecca convinces Max, Theo, and Noah to go to the house with her, despite their reluctance.
But while there, they all see ghosts – or whatever they are. And when they run out of Old Man Gabe’s house, Rebecca isn’t with them.
Returning to the house, the boys arm themselves with Gabe’s ghost-fighting tools: a parrot who gives an alarm call when the shadowy creatures are near and guns that shoot rays of light. They go back to the library, where they last saw Rebecca. But a closer look at the projector reveals that turning it on opens a door to another world. Rebecca, who had been trapped there, escapes, only to be dragged back by the tentacle of a huge monster. Max dives through the portal after her and then the projector’s bulb gets broken. In another world, strange and dangerous, Max and Rebecca fight to survive. Meanwhile, Noah and Theo make a plan to repair the projector. But will it work? And will they get the shadow door open in time?
The art of The Elsewhere Chronicles, Book One: The Shadow Door is distinctive and cartoonish, its wild lines and vivid color giving it an almost graffiti-ish look. The characters seem authentic and are fairly different, given that the short, action-filled volume doesn’t have too much room for character development. Max is the rebel with a heart of gold and a troubled home life; Rebecca is the brave and curious one with no time for her family’s restrictions; Noah is an enterprising boy who sells collectible toys for a profit during recess; Theo is a little timid, anxious about all this adventure but determined not to be left behind. Some characters are further developed by encounters with family members. Rebecca’s brothers are on the phone, updating their friends on the funeral and inheritance, when they’re supposed to be keeping an eye on her; it’s easy for Rebecca to walk out. Her parents are concerned but busy, apparently not realizing that putting the aforementioned brothers in charge is a bad plan. Max’s brother, on the other hand, is unconcerned even when the police are looking for Max.
The book’s eerie tone jumps up a notch with the discovery of the shadow door. It’s not exactly gory or brutal, but let’s just say I wouldn’t get attached to that stray cat, and I don’t have a good feeling about why the dog belonging to Bruiser, the town drunk, is hanging around with Bruiser mysteriously absent. The world beyond the shadow door effectively combines genres: Max and Rebecca meet up with people who bear all the trappings of a high-fantasy society, and who introduce them to some of the fantastical aspects of their world, but the tentacle monster that attacks when they first arrive in this realm is a Lovecraftian-style horror. The art paints both sides of the world vividly. What little we’ve seen so far of its natives indicates that they have learned to live in a place of such light and dark: they know how to fight the monsters, but that isn’t their whole lives. I expect future volumes to show us much more of this world. For fantasy fans, this might be a big incentive to pick them up: it takes most of this first book just to get our characters to the other world, and there’s obviously a lot more to see there.
Of course, Noah and Theo are still in the more familiar world of their town, and I expect to see more of that in future volumes, too. Their world contrasts well with the one beyond the shadow door: in tone, it falls between the beautiful high notes of fantasy and close-knit community behind the door and the dangerous low notes of monsters and violence. It’s clear that the town, too, has thought put into it, and one wonders what will happen as Max and Rebecca’s families realize that they really are missing, whether Bruiser will ever turn up, and what Noah and Theo will do next in their quest to rescue their friends.
The action is captivating, and the art matches the feel of the story, sending characters a reader can care about on an adventure that crosses between worlds. The story ends with a cliffhanger (and a peek at the next volume), so readers who enjoy The Shadow Door will want the next book of The Elsewhere Chronicles.