A teenage girl, along with frog royalty, fights to restore order by reuniting the human and frog worlds in this debut fantasy and prospective-trilogy launch.
Nora Peters’ life in a tiny Pacific Northwest town has certainly not been easy. The almost-18-year-old recently lost her father in an apparent shooting accident that she thinks was murder. Now she has only her grandmother; Nora’s mom died when Nora was 10. The teen’s enameled frog pin, which once belonged to her mother, pushes her life in unexpected directions. Over in the frog world, Queen Ranya prepares for the annual Ceremony of Renewal. It’s meant to affirm cooperation between “the natural world” and the largetoe, or human, world. The ceremony, however, hasn’t been authentic in years. The ritual requires the Golden Pearl of the Forest, which someone has stolen. When word gets around that a femtoe—Nora—has the Pearl, frogs and others, including the Elementos (the elements’ spiritual essences), track her down. Some would just as soon kill Nora to recover the cherished object. But Prince “Azzie” Azzumundo has a much more peaceful solution: invite Nora to the ceremony as the largetoe representative. This throws the natural world into bedlam as nefarious types gunning for Nora, like a power-hungry frog lord, face off against the likes of Azzie’s valiant cousin Princess Linka, who, in protecting the Pearl, also protects Nora. Unfortunately, time is running out. The Pink Moon, another prerequisite for the ceremony, rises in mere days.
Brown’s epic opening installment pits Nora against many villains. Ever hostile largetoe Carl Kincade, for one, claims the girl’s father signed away the family’s property and tree farm—supposedly on the day he died. This only heightens Nora’s later troubles; she isn’t always sure who or what is coming after her. The cast comprises various frog species, like poison, zombie, and tree frogs. Although they occasionally do humanlike things (e.g., speak or brandish weapons), they’re still frogs. They’re much smaller than largetoes and hop from place to place. Irresistible hero Nora not only saves one of them, but, like her late father, she’s an environmentalist, which aligns her with the amphibians who believe her kind is hurting the planet. Nora’s friends form a diverse bunch, from Kameela Bashir, daughter of Somalian refugees, to Minh Phan, whose family hails from Vietnam. An Indigenous friend is described as belonging to a “local tribe,” but no additional information is given. Sadly, none of these teens appear often enough to develop individual personalities. Seth is the exception; he’s a complicated romantic interest, and Nora struggles to remember that he’s not like his abhorrent father, Carl. The storyline features welcome mysteries and subplots regarding, for example, the deaths of Nora’s parents and Queen Ranya’s ascendance to the throne. Brown writes well, portraying an area of clear-cutting as “a field of battle” with “arm-like limbs, slain body-like trunks, stumps, tangled roots.” She’s also a skilled artist, adorning some pages with sublime abstract collages. Readers hoping for answers won’t be disappointed, though there’s a hint of where the planned sequel is headed. Colorful characters animate this magical tale with an environmental message.