Thank you Henry at Odyssey Books for an e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
I utterly adored Esme’s Wish, an upper middle-grade/young adult magical portal adventure with a wonderfully endearing and sympathetic lead character in Esme. The world-building is superbly rich in detail and immersed me completely; the plot captured me from the very start and took me on an engrossing journey of incredible discoveries and dangerous moments; and, the character relationships were utterly engaging and sympathetically drawn.
15-year-old Esme is bereft at the loss of her mother, and refuses to accept that she will never see her again. Even though seven years have passed, and her father has re-married, she lives with the constant pain of loss. Life is even more difficult for her as she has few friends in the village of Picton, and does not get on with her father’s new wife. Her father’s marriage provides the catalyst she needs to drive her to investigate her mother’s disappearance.
Esme’s determined attempt to uncover information about her mother’s disappearance leads her to the island of Spindrift where she discovers some disturbing revelations about her mother which leaves her with a sense of betrayal and anger. It appears that the stories her mother had told her -and the places revealed through her art – may be real and soon, Esme finds herself falling through a watery portal into the City of Esperance, a place where people can breathe underwater, a beautiful city where dragons fly overhead – but one beset by terrible earthquakes which are slowly destroying the City.
Esme soon discovers that her mother has also been to Esperance and was well-known there. This knowledge leads her on an incredible journey of self-discovery, revelations and danger as she seeks answers to her mother’s disappearance, aided by her two friends, Daniel and Lillian. Will her quest to find her mother also enable her to save the City?
I really enjoyed the exploration of the magical system in Aeolia, the fantastical creatures, the political machinations and moral questions raised, and Esme’s eventual realisation, and acceptance of, her place within this gorgeous, yet dangerous, new world as she discovers her own magic gift and makes lasting friendships. Daniel and Lillian prove themselves to be true friends: supportive, caring and prepared to take risks for their new friend and help her no matter the cost.
Esme is a wonderful character: she is able to overcome her fear to show incredible courage; she is fallible and vulnerable, yet shows real resilience and strength of character; and, she is selfless as she takes risks and makes difficult decisions to help those she loves.
This story has everything I love in a great fantasy: sumptuous world-building, fantastical creatures, an interesting magical system, engaging characters and incredibly fast-paced action, full of tension, danger, threat, twists and revelations. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book in this series, Esme’s Gift.