By Dustin Cabeal
The City on the Other Side is difficult for me to review. I bring with me on every review of every story I’ve read. Which is and isn’t fair for everything I review. The City on the Other Side has a lot of similarities to other stories I’ve read. It pulls from a lot of fantasy elements to make a world that’s familiar. On the other side of things, pun intended, if this were someone’s first foray into fantasy stories, it would be interesting and exciting.
The story first starts by introducing the world of fairies called the Seelie and the Unseelie. They, of course, balance each other out, with the Seelie being friendlier and the Unseelie… well, they seem to have an important role that would line up with the way the human world works, but they’re discounted and seemingly on the verge of extinction. That part didn’t quite click for me, and a better explanation could have been used. The two sides are at war, but the current leader of the Unseelie has captured the daughter of the Seelie and created a weapon that he’s planning to use to eliminate the Seelie and humans.
The one cool aspect of the story is that the veil between the two worlds is thin, but keeps them connected. The Seelie and Unseelie look like trees and bugs for the most part, and when the world switches the human side, they turn into the human world version. This isn’t played upon nearly enough for the story, but it was still a very interesting aspect.
Our main character comes from the human world. Her mother is uncaring and uses her for a prop more than a daughter. Her father is an artist that’s lost in his work, but when her mother leaves for a trip, Isabel is forced to stay with her dad… in a small cabin in the woods near San Francisco. While waiting for her father to care for her, she plays in the woods and finds a fairy dying. For some reason, she’s able to pierce the veil, and so the Seelie puts the weapons that the Unseelie leader is looking for in Isabel’s care. Thus, starts her journey to look for the Seelie general, which should lead her to the captured daughter of the Seelie leader. Along the way, Isabel makes friends with a mushroom and a human boy that can jump between both worlds, but lives in the fairy world due to his family being dead and having nowhere to go in the human world.
The story, even if you don’t count the familiar elements, is still very predictable. Again though, that’s my experiences talking. I was able to figure out every twist and turn of the story almost instantly. It’s just a well-worn story. When done right though, it can still be phenomenal. That was not the case here. It’s pretty average. The characters aren’t developed enough, the action is basic, and the conclusion is rushed. The pacing is too fast. Typically when you see this style of “we need to get this too so and so” we spend more time along the journey. With a different set up you could almost get three stories out of this one volume. That would give the characters more time to develop. Instead, we have a double betrayal that’s wiped out instantly making it all seem like filler to the story. It’s not bad, but there's no depth to the tale. It doesn’t bring anything new to this formula and instead relies heavily on what’s come before it.
The artwork is entertaining and full of unusual looking characters. It's impressive seeing the designs that were created. They’re not all just beautiful forest creatures walking around, but instead, some are ugly, some plain and some difficult to describe. None of them were scary looking, which seemed like a misstep of sorts, but it is geared more towards kids. The coloring was fantastic. It makes the world come to life. I wish that the characters had a bit more personality on the page, but otherwise, the artwork was well suited for this particular story.
I would recommend The City on the Other Side to readers looking to get into fantasy stories. Younger tweens and teens will definitely have a different and likely better experience with this story, but older readers will find it lacking in depth.
The City on the Other Side
First Second Books