Goodreads: The Light Between Worlds
Published: Oct. 2018
Five years ago, Evelyn Hapwell, her brother Jamie, and her sister Phillipa found themselves transported to the magical world of the Woodlands while hiding during an air raid. Then, after fighting a war there over the course of five years, they were sent back to London at the very moment they had departed. Evelyn would do anything to return to the tree spirits and the mighty elk Cervus. But Philippa, concerned with nylons and boys, is convinced they must make a life where they are. When Evelyn goes missing, however, Philippa must confront her past.
“My story hasn’t ended yet.”
The Light Between Worlds is, depending on how one interprets it, either a highly derivative work or a thoughtful reimagining of what it might have been like to return from Narnia. Full of obvious parallels to C. S. Lewis’s popular children’s series, the book follows two sisters: one who longs to return to the magical world they left and one determined to make the best of the life they now lead. It is a provocative premise, but one that might have been better served by more original plot elements and less overwrought prose.
Though kind readers will likely accept The Light Between Worlds as a continuation of Narnia rather than as a pale imitator, the question remains: Is it necessary to copy Narnia in order to explore some of the questions the books leave open? Catherynne M. Valente, after all, explores a similar theme in her highly original Fairyland series–the question of what happens when mortals returned from Faerie would do anything to return. Instead of creating her own rich world, however, Laura E. Weymouth chooses to write one-to-one correspondences, giving readers a story in which Evelyn/Lucy, along with Jamie/Peter and Phillipa/Susan, ally themselves with Cervus/Aslan to fight a villain who combines elements of the White Witch, the Telmarines, and Carlomen. Parallels run rampant as the trio are called by a bugle sound from WWII-era London to the Woodlands where they dwell in a castle by the sea and fight a war for five years, before returning to the exact moment they left. Is this a homage or a rip-off? Perhaps, sadly, it does not matter as readers will be too distracted by finding parallels (and deciding whether they should be offended or not) to truly enjoy the story.
If readers can get past the obvious parallels, however, the story has a lot to offer as it largely avoids becoming the standard YA fare full of love triangles, out-of-the-blue betrayals, and enemies-to-lovers tropes. In particular, the story sets itself apart by trying to capture that elusive element of Faerie, that feeling of awe that occurs when boundaries between worlds blend in the woods. It furthermore focuses on two sisters, each very different, each viewing the story through her own distorted perspective. Evelyn captures sympathy with her desire to gain what she has lost while Philippa inspires as a kind of redeemed Susan, one who wears lipstick as a weapon to conquer the world. If the story could have only avoided the dreaded insta-love (two times!), there would have been much to celebrate.
Unfortunately, however, many of the book’s good qualities are obscured, not only by the Narnia parallels, but also by the overwrought prose. It desperately yearns to be “lyrical,” but stringing fancy words together does not necessarily make a sentence flow. Nor does writing a string of vague sentences guarantee an air of mystery. Half the time the prose makes no sense and the other half of the time it simply sounds ridiculous. But it all becomes exceedingly hilarious when Evelyn intersperses her overly dramatic narration with interludes about needing socks. Or when she speaks for the first time and says things like, “Thanks, Dad. You’re a brick.” Who is this girl who narrates her life as Evelyn, beloved of Cervus, walker between the worlds, who writes in first-person fancy prose, but who speaks to others using ordinary slang? It is all incredibly jarring.
The Light Between the Worlds is an engaging book with richly drawn protagonists. However, the resemblance to C. S. Lewis’s beloved children’s books, as well as the desperate prose, will likely lose the story some fans.