Relatively Normal Secrets, by C. W. Allen

One of the fun things about being a panelist for the Cybils Awards is getting review copies of books you've been wanting to read, and also books you've never heard of. In December reading is foremost, but now that's it's January, I am determined to turn my attention to my elementary/middle grade speculative fiction review copy backlog! (it is not, frankly, going well, but I am always hopeful that someday there will not be urgent things sucking all of my energy away.....I could have done without the sewage pipe catastrophe, for instance.....)

But in any even, I have a review today gosh darn it! Relatively Normal Secrets, by C. W. Allen (September 2021, Cinnabar Moth Publishing), is a fun portal fantasy/science fiction story.

Zed and his sister Tuesday know that their parents are odd, and Tuesday in particular is determined to discover the secrets she's sure they are hiding. When their parents leave on a last minute "business trip," leaving behind Nyx, their mother's huge guard dog who has never left her side before, the kids decide to search the house for anything that might shed light on their strange parents. But this search is cut short when thuggish intruders, armed with magical, shapeshifting weapons, show up.  And Nyx the dog bursts into flames and attacks them. The two kids run from the house into the woods, and their day gets even weirder when a portal opens, transporting them to the world of Falinnheim, where Nyx is mysteriously there with them.

Falinnheim is a strange mix of sci fi modern and medieval fantasy, and Tuesday and Zed are totally at sea.  All they have is Nyx, who keeps displaying other unusual talents, and coded clues in fragments of nursery rhymes that keep turning up in unexpected places.  The enforcers of the despotic r├ęgime start trying to arrest them, and it's not until their captured by bandits working to overthrow the despot that they start figuring out that the secrets their parents were keeping from them were vastly more remarkable than they'd ever imagined.

It's a fun story--the sci fi aspects of Falinnheim's text freshens this alternate world, and the fact that Tuesday and Zed aren't chosen ones with a mission, but simply two kids hoping to find their parents and stay alive, is also a nice change from standard portal fantasy.  And Nyx is a great dog; it was fun to see him manifesting his powers!  Recommend for readers who enjoy mystery mixed with their speculative fiction, and want an enjoyable escape to an alternate world.

It ends with a huge reveal setting up a sequel, which I'm looking forward to!

Thanks, Cinnabar Moth, for sending us panelists hard copies of the book!

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