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I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about this book. As far as the world building was concerned, I was impressed. The world of the Others was imaginative, deliberate and fantastic in the best sense of the word, full of magic and terrifying creatures. I really enjoyed being able to explore that new world, even though the society of the Others was fairly complex. Readers really have to pay attention to keep all the different abilities, groups and their hierarchy straight. Personally, I found the part taking place in Arcadia, the land of the Others, more enjoyable than the one taking place in the “real” world. However, I kind of missed the paranormal element at the beginning. During the first 20 percent of the book, there were just mere hints at Charlie’s unnatural abilities.
The pace of the story was well done. The prologue was gripping enough to make me eager to read the book. Sadly, the pace did slow down a little bit after that. When the reader learns more about Charlie’s abilities and the characters begin their journey to help Derekein, things are getting interesting again. The gang encounters enough danger and obstacles of all kinds to keep the reader entertained. Even though this book is clearly for younger readers, there is a lot of action in it, just not the kind I’m used to from other urban fantasy or some PNR books. The end of the book holds a few surprises and unexpected turns which are incentive enough to make you want to find out what is next for Charlie and his gang.
Unfortunately, I had a few problems with the characters. While it is easy to feel for Charlie due to his tragic past, I was never able to establish a connection to him that went past that. Maybe it was because most of the characters in Talisman of El are pretty young. Personally, I find it easier to empathize with characters closer to my age or at least above the age of sixteen. Also, it seemed to me as if Charlie, Alex and even Richmond act a little bit too mature for their age. Even the bravest kid at the age of fourteen wouldn’t react like Charlie in the situations he finds himself into. There is a lot of emotional and dangerous stuff going on that every kid his age would have a lot of trouble dealing with. While he does grieve about the deaths of his parents, he reacts surprisingly mature to everything else. Even the adults in this book treat him like a grown up person and look to him when they are in need of a leader, though there are characters far more experienced than him.
Alex is a great female character, very self confident, outspoken and loyal. Her obvious crush on Charlie, and her attempts to hide it, made her more believable as a normal teenager. Of all the characters, I liked her best, since she seemed the most realistic of the bunch.
Richmond and Derekein however were harder for me to like. Again, I believe that a eleven year old runaway would probably show different behavior than Richmond. Derekein who is the oldest of the group was very pale in comparison to the others.
All in all, Talisman of El is a solid debut and start for a planned trilogy. Younger readers will enjoy Charlie's fantastic adventure and journey to a magical world in this tale of friendship and courage.