Young author Mikaila Rushing’s The Magician’s Portal has written a young adult fantasy whose appeal extends beyond the purview of just young readers – I’m in my 40s and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a swiftly paced short novel that trades world-building for sleek pacing. Yet the book tells a whole tale in its short length – and one that lends itself to expansion. You can get your epic – maybe a franchise of short novels, Miss Rushing? – in a series of taut, fat-free novels. Sure, it won’t be as heady as hardcore world-builders, but in this day and age we’ve forgotten that fantasy doesn’t have to be 1,000 pages per volume. Not that epic-length fantasy is a bad thing, but it sure as hell is an abusable thing.
In this slender but loaded volume, Rushing carries us from Earth to another world entirely (think C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, only way better), and then on a journey across that land! The four girls who comprise the central cast of characters find themselves thrust from slumber party fun to perilous, magical adventures. It is these four girls who yank us into her delightful world – even when her characters face the danger of death, the sense of fun and vivacity never abandons the reader. It’s impossible not to like this tale.
Especially when it’s populated but such three-dimensional characters. Rushing is such a naturally talented writer, she makes her characters POP! right off the page. What’s more, Rushing pulls this off without belabored description or overlong character arcs. And even more impressive is that the author accomplishes much of this feat through dialogue. Dialogue is tough. I know. I’m an author (clearly) and back before I realized that non-fiction was more my bag, I struggled constantly with creating convincing dialogue.
If the dialogue in The Magician’s Portal made her break a sweat, Rushing hides it well. Her smooth dialogue flows effortlessly through the pages, breathing three-dimensional life into these characters. Dialogue is one of the harder things for a good fictionalist to pull off. For a budding novelist making her early forays into publishing, this is an incredibly mature display of talent. There are more experienced authors who could learn a thing or two from Miss Rushing.
The plot of the story is a classic one – transplantation from our mundane world into one of wonder and adventure – and Rushing employs a variety of fantasy tropes, but she puts her own spin on them. This has the perennial appeal of old-school fairy tales, but with a tweak or two here and there to make the tale Rushing’s own.
Eminently readable and overflowing with talent, The Magician’s Portal looks to be but the first in a canon of engaging fantasy tales from a promising new talent. If Mikaila Rushing is this good right out of the gate, imagine what’s to come!
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