Published by Hodder Children’s Books.
Review by Miriam Atkinson.
Bestselling author Sheila O’Flanagan trades her usual drama and romance novels for her first foray into the world of fantasy. Written for teens and young adults, The Crystal Run follows Joe, who escapes the school bullies only to accidentally find himself falling into the far-off world of Carcassia. There he meets Kaia, a Runner. Together they must journey into enemy territory and use crystals to recharge the shield-dome protecting Carcassia. But a Runner’s life expectancy is tied to the duration of their run. Joe desperately searches for a way to save himself and Kaia from this mysterious world.
The Crystal Run is a fast-paced story (quite fitting considering the journey the characters undertake) but it never feels rushed. The plot progresses naturally from obstacles to dangers, with mysteries for Joe and Kaia to overcome – giving the reader a tour of this new world and familiarising them with the rules of Carcassia and Kanabian societies.
However I feel The Crystal Run does struggle with one hurdle that fantasy (and science-fiction) novels can sometimes fumble. When creating an entirely new world it is important for the reader to quickly be able to visualise and understand what they are reading about. From the first page of The Crystal Run, newly invented words and names – such as for characters, places, food, weapons, animals, objects, rituals, and more – are abundant, which at times can become quite confusing. O’Flanagan appears aware of this, as Joe and Kaia frequently repeat where they need to visit on their run, as well as the places they have already been. Similar important information is often repeated through dialogue. While I did enjoy the novel and am intrigued by the world O’Flanagan has created, I think it would take me a couple of read-throughs to get all of the nouns clear in my head.
Even before I started reading, one of the things that made The Crystal Run sound so appealing was the promise of mysteries waiting to be solved – such as what really happens to the Runners at the end of their journey; how was Joe able to enter Carcassia and what caused the division between the two nations of Carcassia and Kanabia. The novel is the first in a series, so I was not expecting O’Flanagan to provide all of the answers at once, yet I did end the novel feeling as though none of my questions had been answered. I would have preferred if some of the mysteries had been wrapped up in this first book, as it puts a lot more pressure on the sequel to deliver some or most of the answers, depending on how many books end up being part of the series. Perhaps the lack of answers is so frustrating because of how much, as a reader, you come to care for Joe and Kaia. The genuinely surprising twist in the final chapter does create even more questions, but the cliff-hanger is successful in making me want to read the sequel when it is released.