This is one of those quirky books that appears to be set entirely in this workaday world, before it then turns into some more fantastic.
Recently fired and residing with her sweetly overbearing mother, Madlyn needs a job—bad. In a moment of desperation, she accepts a part-time position reading at the bedside of adventurer and amateur writer Cody Lofton. A near-drowning accident left the young man in a vegetative state, and his chances of recovery wane with each passing day. Cody’s older brother, Dustin, and eccentric grandmother aren’t prepared to give up on the youngest son of Portland, Oregon’s royalty. Dustin’s a personable guy, bordering on naïve, and overwhelmed by familial corporate duties and cutthroat partners. Grandmother Lillian’s a meddler with an eye for the esoteric, dabbling in Dustin’s life and dealing out wisdom like a card shark. One innocent conversation at a time, she sucks Madlyn into the Lofton story, dubbing her the princess and bestowing on her the responsibility of both grandsons’ destinies. And all Madlyn wanted was a simple reading job.
I really like Madlyn and her struggle to fit into modern life. When she gets the job, I also like the fact that she finds the setup in the Lofton household a bit weird, if not creepy. But it was a refreshing change to have an elderly woman at the helm of the household and keeping control by an unnerving knack of knowing what is happening before anyone else. What kicks this story into the realm of fantasy is when Madlyn starts reading Cody’s unfinished fantasy novel to him.
We are then whisked away into a different world – or are we? At one point an event occurs and we have some kind of explanation for what happens as Madlyn, Dustin, Cody, Lillian and other members of the household find themselves running for their lives from bloated monsters intent on killing them. The captains of this terrifying army are none other than the greedy board members making Dustin’s life misery at the family firm where Madlyn once worked, before being unfairly fired.
So there are two main storylines running alongside each other – I liked them both and found the fantasy tale whipped along at a fair lick with plenty of danger and excitement to keep the pages turning. I also very much enjoyed the setup in the contemporary real world – Cody steadily fading away with the household and family mourning his loss and Dustin struggling to cope with the responsibility of running the company in the face of a hostile board.
However, right at the end where the two worlds came together, I was not wholly convinced that it was handled as effectively as it might be. If the writing or storytelling along the way had been less skilful, this would have been a dealbreaker, but I think this is a good read rather than the potentially great book it could have been.