"Sividious Stark and the Stadium Between Worlds" has set the groundwork for what is hopefully a promising series as this story breaks out of the young adult genre that is generally all too predictable.
This book starts a story that is too good to stop here.
Timpanogos High School English teacher Greg Park, author of the EarthSoul series, not only manages to tell a fantastical story but keeps it grounded in the real world as the 14-year-old Sividious Stark still has to deal with school, a bully and family rules while he travels back and forth into space.
His journey to the Stadium Between Worlds begins when a tiny, blue, fairy-like creature comes to him in distress. Aya, who is a Kelsprite, leaves him an all-access pass to the stadium that is somehow pivotal to all kinds of alien creatures.
Somehow Aya knows to pick out a geeky kid with a penchant for science, computers and detail.
Stark explains the visit to his best friend Jackie, a girl he's known since childhood, and she not only believes his story but joins him in the rescue attempt.
The two travel to a place akin to a huge Roman-like coliseum where the games demand victory or death.
Aliens from hundreds of worlds attend the games where the tiny Kelsprite is a popular champion. She has to win her matches even though the odds are deliberately stacked against her.
Meanwhile, Stark has to figure out this new place, outwit its security, learn to work with its technology and plot a rescue mission.
He also has to deal with the differences in how time is measured and keep himself and Jackie alive.
A pair of karate uniforms and cattle prods come in handy even while it seems somewhat silly to begin with.
This tale is fresh and clean. The battles and the action is remarkably bloodless. There's nothing here that will worry a parent, except maybe the "fight-to-the-death" philosophy behind the stadium world games.
The story is intriguing and there's just enough action to keep it moving without it becoming tiresome or cliche.
Stark is a reasonable hero and a likable kid. Jackie is a worthy sidekick.
It's science fiction, but human emotions are at play with Aya, the Kelsprite, refusing to bend to the harsh Kaladan taskmasters and both Stark and Jackie having to deal with dying or taking out a foe.
It's fantastical without being a waste of time.
The story also lends itself to a discussion of time and its dimensions, loyalty, power, courage and duty.
Park may very well have a serious youth reader hit here.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.