Oona is the clumsiest student at Sand Dancer Academy. Her weak abilities are a source of embarrassment and continually reaffirmed by regular comparisons to her more talented older sister, Jessa, who ran away. After Oona discovers that the Five Worlds, including her home-world of Chrysalis, are overheating, she decides to find Jessa who she believes is the only one talented enough to light the Beacons that are believed to reverse the process. When an attack by the Sand Dancers’ enemy the Toki destabilizes the situation, Oona sets out with her new friends—An Tzu, a clever street urchin, and Jax Amboy, a former sports star—to find Jessa and save the Five Worlds. As she uncovers more secrets with An Tzu and Jax, Oona discovers she may have a bigger role to play than she initially believed.
As the first volume in a planned series, 5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior focuses on introducing the reader to the main cast and setting. The set-up has a lot to offer, and addresses several challenging issues that parallel problems faced in our world. For example, many of their current troubles revolve around global warming, and bad blood and inequality further divide the worlds. These dynamics help to create a rich world brought to life by the bright illustrations. The character designs are energetic and include diverse body types, giving the world a lively vibrancy. The bright color palette particularly succeeds in setting the tone throughout the story: despite the subject matter, much of 5 Worlds takes a lighter tone, and the art reflects that.
If there’s one complaint, it’s that the story takes longer than it should to get to Oona’s quest. The first part of the book is much slower as the writers seem focused on introducing the world before starting the main story. These are important details, but it also prevents the main adventure from beginning. However, the longer beginning did not fully take away from my enjoyment from the story as the dynamics and rivalries were personally interesting and seem potentially relevant, but I could see other readers becoming bogged down by the slower pacing. After Oona begins her quest, the story really takes off. The second half of the book focuses on Oona and her friends’ journey to discover how to light the beacons, and readers discover more secrets along with Oona and her friends. Because the characters are under a lot of pressure, these information reveals have impact and are well-integrated into the main narrative.
Oona herself is an enjoyable and well-rounded character. The contrast between her poor self-esteem and determined actions makes her highly relatable, and her character arc is a pleasure to read as she gains confidence in her abilities and her self-worth changes to match her brave actions. 5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior ends with plenty of questions and secrets that will have readers eager for the next volume. The illustrators have included a few hints for observant readers to theorize about as they wait for the next volume, which, according to the book’s Tumblr, will be released in 2018.
5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior is a solid first volume in what has the potential to be a great series. 5 Worlds has plenty of opportunity to explore challenging concepts in an approachable way, and readers who enjoy fantasy series full of adventure and quests will likely enjoy the first volume. Random House starts the age level at middle grade (ages 8-12), and this reviewer agrees with that rating as a starting point. The themes tackled and lovely artwork will also attract teen and adult readers, who will consider this a quick and enjoyable read.
5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior, book 1
by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel
Art by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Siegel, Boya Sun
Random House Books, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12