Worvald was gone, but he’d left the fate of the world in Alexa’s small hands.

Worvald was dead. Alexa knew that—she had been there, had seen him die, and had taken the key from around his neck that he’d used to lead her into the secret tunnels below the walled city of Bridewell. But Worval was still wielding his power, changing Alexa’s life, through his instructions in the letters he left for her. And now, a year later, Alexa and her father were returning to Bridewell for the summer. Alexa had strict orders not to go into the tunnels and to stay out of trouble, but when she went to the library, to her place by the secret door, she heard a soft knocking—from behind the door, from inside the tunnels.

But the tunnels were closed—all the entrances permanently blocked. She pulled her chair away from the door, wondering what would happen, and it popped open and a tiny old face with a big grin peered through the opening. “Yipes!” Alexa said. “What on earth are you doing here?” She was delighted to see her old friend. Yipes had been waiting for her. He had a story to tell and a message to deliver. He handed her a torn and battered envelope with eight words scribbled on it in Worvald’s handwriting: “For Alexa Daley, one year after I’ve gone.” The message inside was brief. “There is a secret cave in the Dark Hills, and within it is something you must retrieve, something very important and very special. This is something for you alone, Alexa, and you alone must find it. This is a secret journey your father can have no part in.” A map was drawn beneath his words, marking the way to the cave.

When she and Yipe got to the cave, there were more surprises waiting—John Christopher, who’d been told by Worvald to wait for her and help her, her old friend Murphy the squirrel, Odessa the wolf, wife of her old friend Darius, and a hawk named Squire. And finally, Worvald had left her the last Jocasta, the magical stone that allowed her to talk with animals.

John Christopher had a few clues about how to proceed, and they started their journey immediately. “Past the Dark Hills lies the Valley of Thorns. At the end of the valley is a lake both dark and deep, and at its distant shore sits the Dark Tower. Only there will we find the answers we seek.” And that evening, after a long and difficult journey, while hiding in a cave beneath a huge rock to escape a vicious black swarm of bats, they found their next message from Worvald.

It was five pages of wrinkled paper, covered with closely crowded lines of handwriting—Worvald’s record of the history of the places beyond the Valley of Thorns – and it explained what the purpose of their journey there would be. It was a strange and confusing tale of betrayal, greed and corruption, peopled by humans, giants, and powerful supernatural beings called seraphs. Abbadon is the most powerful of these seraphs, and he is obsessed with becoming the ruler of the Land of Elyon and the Tenth City. He is kept chained in a pit by Elyon, but he is still able to exert his evil force over men and animals from afar. Only one person can defeat him—she who holds the last of the sacred stones of Elyon, the last Jocasta—Alexa herself. Alexa and her companions hold the fate of their world in their hands. Can they succeed? Do they dare fail?

This booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart.