Wednesday, May 01, 2019

In Two Worlds: Silent Lee and the Adventure of the Side Door Key by Alex Hiam

Time was complex when it came to Generous Lee, who had lived mostly in a world that was a full century out of date.

When you left Auntie's house by the side door, you found yourself stepping down into the side garden. A narrow path led to a black iron gate and then to the sidewalk on Newbery Street... . Through the side door there were actual residences, with mothers taking babies out for a stroll in big, black perambulators and maids hurrying back with baskets of dinner ingredients.

Silent Lee, called Sie, is aware of the modern world, from which her most-unmotherly mother infrequently flies in from her jet-setter world and whom her Auntie Gen whispers is a spy. But she has always been with Gen, who lives, by means of the key to a magical "side door," in the world of Boston a hundred years before. Sie's school, the Girls Academy of Latin and Alchemy, is a ten-minute walk from the side door, where she excels in Latin, math, and especially spell-weaving.

But when her mother appears suddenly, declaring that her Aunt Gen has become ill and died, Sie is abruptly removed from her side-door world and sent to live in the attic of "the cousins," who abruptly disappear "on vacation," leaving her to discover that their house is to be sold from under her. And when she returns to Auntie Gen's house, the side door no longer exists, and she is left alone, a stranger in the strange century of the front door world.

But then Sie is befriended by an acquaintance from her new school, Raahi, who is immediately drawn into her almost incredible story and becomes her partner in discovering what has really happened to Auntie Gen. Together the two find themselves moving between the two worlds--one moment on a MBTA bus and the next, by means of Sie's spell-weaving, in old Boston, pursued by a cadre of X-Men-styled agents complete with black suits, black SUV's, and black helicopters, who track them down  through both sides of the time-warp that is Sie's world....
"What do we do?" asked Raahi.

"Time for another illusion," said Sie. She began to chant in some ancient language. She wove complex shapes in the air..... Two shapes appeared, floating beside them. They rotated as they thickened into humans forms. And there, standing in front of them, were themselves.

The real Sie and Raahi watched, as their conjured doubles reached the door... and knocked. Large arms in dark suit-coats reached out and pulled them inside.

In Alex Hiam's brand-new fantasy mystery, Silent Lee (Webster Press, 2019), two unlikely but intrepid characters bond in a time-traveling fight against a dark enemy in a style reminiscent of Hermione Granger's and Harry Potter's adventures between the muggle and magical worlds. Although Sie is the center around which the plot is woven, Raahi quickly begins to steal the show, his own audacious courage and magical sleuthing skills beginning to emerge as the two flee through both centuries only a step ahead of danger.

With his setting in Boston, where the old and new live side by side, Hiam's narrative skills immediately envelope young teen readers into his fantasy tale as easily as Silent Lee slips in and out of the centuries. Fans of this light but truly spellbinding novel will be glad to learn that a sequel is promised, Silent Lee and the Oxford Adventure.

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