“This is a story about monsters and mazes, and what it means to be lost.”
I picked up Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger by Lee Edward Fodi on a hunch during a recent visit to The Strand in NYC, but noticed it was Book Two of a series, so I picked up the first book as well, Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. As expected, though, the first book was only vaguely a Girls Underground story, while the second book fit the archetype much more.
In the Box of Whispers, we are introduced to Kendra Kandlestar, an eleven-year-old Een (a race of small magical creatures) who isn’t quite like other Eens, and whose friends are all talking animals. Her entire family disappeared when she was a baby, and she is being raised by her wizard uncle. One day something terrible breaches the magic curtain that protects the land of Een from the outside world and steals a very important box. Kendra is selected, along with several others, to journey to the outside and retrieve the box. Along the way, she rescues a young Unger, who are the sworn enemies of Eens. The companions pass through a riddle door, and face a dragon adversary. Kendra ends up defeating the adversary by facing her darkest secret, and saves the day. However, it’s not really her story yet – she is just pulled along with events she can’t control.
In the Door to Unger, Kendra becomes a full-fledged Girl Underground with her own quest and volition. An old Unger shows up one night and tells her she must find the mysterious Door to Unger, which will reveal the secrets of her missing family. She sets out with the same group of friends, and they must sneak out of Een through an underground passage. They are delayed in the dwarves’ land by an evil dwarf king who tries to make them his slaves. Instead, Kendra frees all of his other slaves (even though they are monsters), but is left alone in the ensuing chaos, her friends captured. She ends up teaming up with the very same Unger she rescued in the first book, and they form an uneasy alliance. She also acquires a faun as a companion later on, although he is unreliable. Her Unger companion brings her to the Door, which turns out to be the manifestation of an ancient evil wizard who was once an Een himself. So in this story, the classic GU talking door is actually the adversary!
The Door orders Kendra thrown into a terrifying maze along with her companions and many monsters. He gets inside her head and tries to make her believe his lies, including a betrayal by her companion. As she succumbs, she begins to turn into an Unger herself. But Kendra overcomes this manipulation, and realizes a shocking truth about the fate of her family. She breaks the curse of the wizard, which destroys the maze, and rescues her brother… though only temporarily. The stage is set for more adventures.