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The Dark Hills Divide (Land of Elyon, Book 1) by Patrick Carman
Well, I'm using a relatively loose definition of “reading.” You see, I've never read a physical version of this book. My now-ex and I got an audiobook version of this through Cracker Barrel's Books-on-Audio program. I loved it (I'm not sure if he was so enthusiastic). When I went to buy a copy of the book, I found that the hard copy version (Carman was still working on the series, so for the most recent book (I think it was The Tenth City?)) had a deckle edge, which is where the edge of the book is uneven. I thought that this would not be a positive tactile experience for me, so, despite the paperback versions having an even edge, I continued to get the books in audio format. I now have the first four (of five) books set in the Elyon universe in audio format, and once I'm pretty close to the end of that fourth book I'll buy the final book. When I say “final,” by the way, I'm not reading them chronologically or in release order. I'm doing the four books about Alexa first and will do Into the Mist, which is about two characters in the series when they were children, after that.
Alexa Daley lives in a quite literally circumscribed world. Most of the time when they say that a word is circumscribed, they mean that her family and/or school are keeping her options limited. That's not true of Alexa. She has a pretty good history of freedom and of exploring her world. Her world, which is surrounded by walls.
Before Alexa was born, Thomas Warvold was given a fortune that said that danger lurked in the woods surrounding his village, Bridewell. So, Warvold rented some prisoners from the nearby city of Ainsworth to build a wall around Bridewell. Bridewell began to outgrow its boundaries during this time, and so three other cities, Lathbury, Turlock, and Lunenberg, grew up around Bridewell. All four cities are surrounded by walls themselves and are connected to each other by walled roads.
Alexa's father, James, is the mayor of Lathbury and every summer, Alexa and her father travel to Bridewell, where they stay at Renny Lodge (which was named for Warvold's late wife), which is the old prison. During the summer that Alexa was 12 years old, Thomas Warvold takes her out to see the wall, and then he dies. Alexa takes a key from a locket around Warvold's neck. A key that turns out to be fairly important.
Alexa finds out that Renny Warvold used to make jewels with cunning designs carved into them, called Jocastas. Later, she uses the key to open a door in the library and escapes into the woods beyond the walls, where she finds that Renny Warvold's Jocastas were based on some gems that can be found in the woods (and whose provenance is at this point unknown), which can tell the future of their owners and which can give their owners the ability to speak to animals.
Armed with her Jocasta, Alexa, a small man named Yipes (who also has a Jocasta) and an assortment of animal companions work together to get to the bottom of the threat that is hanging over the heads of all four of Warvold's cities.
I've listened to this book maybe three or four times now and never get tired of it (a while back I said that the Floors series was disappointing because I normally like Carman's books so much, and now I get to tell you which books I like and why). And the very best thing about it is something that I can't tell you about because it would be a spoiler.
Well, maybe I'll add a spoiler capsule to a later version of the review. I'll think about it.