Akarnae ★★☆☆☆

I always thought I loved portal fantasy stories; after all, I did spend ten years writing one, but Akarnae proved that I did not love portal fantasies as much as I thought I did.

Dreading her first day at a new school, Alex is stunned when she walks through a Akarnaedoorway and finds herself stranded in Medora, a fantasy world full of impossibilities. Desperate to return home, she learns that only a man named Professor Marselle can help her… but he’s missing.

While waiting for him to reappear, Alex attends Akarnae Academy, Medora’s boarding school for teenagers with extraordinary gifts. She soon starts to enjoy her bizarre new world and the friends who embrace her as one of their own, but strange things are happening at Akarnae, and Alex can’t ignore her fear that something unexpected… something sinister… is looming.

An unwilling pawn in a deadly game, Alex’s shoulders bear the crushing weight of an entire race’s survival. Only she can save the Medorans, but what if doing so prevents her from ever returning home?

Will Alex risk her entire world—and maybe even her life—to save Medora?

-Goodreads

In general, I do like portal fantasies–if done right. Narnia? Yup! Golden Compass? Totally! Inkspell? You know it! But Akarnae? Meh.

I was severely underwhelmed by Akarnae, for several reasons. The plot wasn’t quite believable. Alex gets stuck in a world with “magic” so she immediately goes to a school for the gifted, even though she doesn’t believe herself to be gifted, she’s supposedly the one to save Medora, and she’s trying her hardest to get home. Except, I also don’t believe for a hot second that she wants to go home. Her parents are gone and unreachable, her school is full of people she hates and doesn’t know, she’s got no friends back on Earth, yet she’s desperate to go home? Commence eye rolling.

The writing itself was relatively bland too; too much telling and not enough showing (especially since there are magical elements everywhere), tenses shifted too much from present tense to past perfect and back again, and the world-building was lackluster. We’re led to believe that Medora runs on magic, but it’s not magic, it’s some sort of advanced science we don’t have on Earth–but we never see what makes it different, how it works, or why it allows seemingly impossible things to occur (like food “magically” appearing before your very eyes immediately after ordering it).

In general, there were too many small things piled up to make it unreadable. I got halfway through before I realized how bored out of my mind I was. It was a mix of all the common tropes (even cliches) of both portal fantasies and boarding school stories to make it seem unoriginal and not worth getting invested in. Not even the characters had distinct enough voices for me to like any of them.

I’ve got to mark Akarnae down as a DNF, as much as I hate to, and move on. You should move on too, if you see it anywhere.

By J. M. Tuckerman

J.M.Tuckerman is a neurodivergent writer with a big education. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, an MA in Writing, and a BA in Writing Arts (specializing in Creative Writing, New Media Writing, and Publication; concentrating in New Media Production), which she somehow managed to earn despite her three very loud and large dogs. Jessica was lucky enough to intern at Quirk Books and Picador, USA while earning her master’s degrees. Her service dog, Ringo, is very proud of all that she has accomplished and hopes to be on a back cover of a published book with her very soon. An avid reader, writer, and lover of young adult and middle-grade literature, Jessica’s bookshelf is overflowing with hardbacks, paperbacks, and a million half-filled notebooks. She is a proud fur-mommy to two lab/st-bernard littermates, a retriever-mix service dog, and one orange little hobgoblin cat, all of whom have made very audible appearances on the Booked All Night podcast.