Review: Mia and the Lightcasters

Written by Janelle McCurdy
Illustrated by Ana Latese
Published by Faber & Faber

Mia and the Lightcasters is a thrilling, deliciously scary fantasy adventure:  an edge-of-your-seat, exhilarating quest into darkness and light that kept me enthralled throughout. 

12-year-old Mia had always dreamed of becoming an umbra tamer, but that dream became a nightmare after a terrifying encounter with a red-eyed umbra on the Nightmare Plains.

Mia lives with her umbra tamer parents and younger brother Lucas in the walled city of Nubis which has been thrown into an endless moonlit, star-filled night following an attack by the Reaper King’s followers 15 years before.  However, rather than evacuating the city, people chose to remain and live with the shadowy darkness, so this is the only life that Mia knows.

When Nubis is attacked by the Reaper King’s new force, the inhabitants, including Mia’s parents, are locked in cages.   The lives of her parents and the fate of the city is in the hands of Mia and her friends, TJ and Jada. They find themselves in a race against time to reach Stella where her Grandparents live, and seek help before the rise of the Blood Moon when all hope may well be lost … 

Oh my goodness!  I was utterly swept into this breath-taking adventure which has everything I love in epic fantasy:  rich world-building; breath-taking peril with a balance of hope; characters who have a close bond of friendship; fascinating, sentient creatures; hidden powers; and, a dark villain who influences from a mystical other world.  I adored the twists and revelations, the danger and spine-tingling darkness with just the right intensity of horror as Mia and her friends are hunted across the Nightmare Plains, trying to keep one step ahead of merciless pursuers … 

I’m a huge fan of a map in epic fantasy adventures as I love to refer to it as places are mentioned during my reading, giving me a real sense of place.  The cinematic scope of the world-building is perfectly realised in the story. There is not only a gorgeous map of Lunis at the start, but there are also a series of the most stunning double-page illustrations which complement the dark edgy vibes of the story perfectly. 

Mia is a brilliant protagonist who I absolutely adored.  After a terrifying encounter, she has developed a fear of umbra, yet she faces and overcomes that fear in her determination to save her family, friends and city.  She is courageous, resilient and proves herself to be a wonderfully trustworthy and loyal friend.  I loved the strong bond she has with her little brother, Lucas, and how her need to keep him safe helps develop her awareness of her own inner strength and her self-belief.

I love a scary, threatening villain!  The Reaper King brings a mystical quality to the narrative.  I really felt the sense of threat and tension throughout as I learned more about this terrifying King who is responsible for the perpetual Darkness, and who has willing and loyal followers prepared to carry out his wishes.  I must admit that I’m very curious to find out more about his background and motives in further books.

And then there’s the umbra!  What incredible and fascinating creatures they are!  They are hybrid creatures born of shadows and stars who can evolve into three forms.   They can choose to bond with a human umbra tamer, communicating through a telepathic connection.  Whilst humans who make this connection are called umbra tamers, the bond between Mia and her umbra feels like a very special friendship, giving opportunity for some wonderfully humorous moments to lighten the tension.   

This is an action-packed, unputdownable epic fantasy adventure which took me on a heart-racing quest through an unforgettable world brimming with danger and darkness, friendship and family, courage and hope.  

Thank you to Bethany Carter and Faber Children’s Books for a copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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