Goodreads: The Way to Rio Luna
Series: Not listed as a series, but has an open ending
Two years ago, Danny and his older sister Pili were separated at the foster home. She said she’d see him again, but then she disappeared. Danny believes that Pili went to the magical world of Rio Luna, the land of their favorite storybook, just like they had imagined. But no one believes him. Then one day, Danny finds a magical book–and it has a map to Rio Luna. Can Danny solve the clues and be reunited with his sister?
The Way to Rio Luna is a homage to classic fantasy books, featuring familiar tropes such as the orphaned boy seeking for a home, the portal into a fantasy land, and the quest to defeat an ancient evil. It will appeal to readers who enjoy books that contain things like talking jackalopes and travel by star. However, the book admittedly does not distinguish itself among other, more original works, and I was not inspired to read the sequel, should one be published.
I believe part of my disappointment originally stemmed by the expectations raised by the cover jacket. The summary on the book made me believe that the story would involve the protagonist Danny travelling to a magical world and attempting to find his sister there. However, the book is actually just one main setup to get Danny to the world of Rio Luna. In actuality, he spends the book travelling around the globe to collect map pieces that will, ultimately, open the magic door. I’m not really a fan of quests that involve collecting multiple pieces. It feels to me more like a video game conceit than a plot line I want to read. I’m also not a fan of books that are merely preludes to another book. I would have preferred if Danny had finished his quest in this book, instead of barely starting it. So the entire conception of The Way to Rio Luna just does not match my reading preferences.
Aside from that, the merits of the story prove a bit uneven. Danny is a likeable protagonist, and he is joined by the spunky Glory and an obnoxious, yet still endearing jackalope prince. One really wants to root the misfit trio on, even if the steps of their quest prove not to be that intricate or dangerous, and even if the surprise twist at the end is not that surprising. I would say, actually, that the characters are the best part of the book. They do their best to make up for the disappointing worldbuilding, which was not detailed enough to really make me believe that Rio Luna exists.
Still, The Way to Rio Luna is a solid read. I imagine the target audience will be less critical than I, and that they will be happy to read about kids who go on dangerous adventures and find portals to other worlds. The ending is left wide open for a sequel, since the plot line in this one remains unresolved, so fans who enjoy this book can potentially look forward to another.