“The Return of the Key” by Alisha Nurse is an adventure story with a healthy dose of fantasy and sprinklings of romance woven in throughout. Eliza Aurelio is the focus of the tale, a mixed race girl sent from her home in Trinidad to England to escape racial tension but then gets swept up into the problems of a mythical fairy world she unwittingly gets drawn into. She makes many friends along the way who all have unique skills they contribute to help Eliza save the world of magic and in turn her own. Eliza is pushed to become the hero she never thought she could be, and in turn learns to overcome her fears and insecurities. In the end the greatest battle she has to face is the one to accept herself just the way she is.
Alisha Nurse took a bit of a gamble with this novel by combining the very real issues of racial conflict with the mythical problems of race in a fictitious world but I think she carried it off marvelously. Nurse blended the two story lines flawlessly together and the parallels between the magical world and the human world highlighted the damage caused by racial tension. Eliza Aurelio is the protagonist but we also get to hear from her friends Gwen and Arden which provides a great balance of perspectives. Gwen is Eliza’s friend at school facing racial problems of her own and Arden, a fairy who has to rise above the prejudices of his people to help his world and his new friends.
The characters are well fleshed out, if somewhat resembling stock characters from a teen drama, which to a certain extent is what this book is. Gwen is a typical tomboy, becoming fast friends with Eliza as she recognizes the similarities between their lives and the challenges they face. Arden is one of the first fairies Gwen and Eliza meet and luckily also one of the most sympathetic to their plight. He is the stoic hero, constantly coming to the rescue of the girls, and in particular Eliza as a strong relationship grows between the two. After all what is a novel about teenagers without a bit of awkward romance?
Since the book is quite short, the characters are not given long to develop over the course of the story but they are still lovable and relatable. The plot on the other hand has a great rhythm to it and unfolds at a great pace considering the length of time it is given. I loved the ending which strays from the typical storybook ending in a creative way. There is also a great segue towards the end that in my opinion, leaves the way open for sequels.
The only real problem I had with the book was the simplicity. The story was rich with history and sideline characters but for a young adult novel I was expecting a bit more depth to the story. The writing was also problematic in some places as Nurse tried to tie in a lot of imagery but ended up with bulky run on sentences, and while it showed off her vocabulary it made for some uninspiring read on occasion.
If you would like to buy this book the Amazon link is here.
The authors' website is here.