Alexa Daley lives in a land where the people are afraid, so afraid that they've built a wall around their city. Moreover, the roads themselves are walled, so that travelers can go from one town to another without ever seeing the countryside. This then, is the land of The Dark Hills Divide, the land of Elyon, where stones are set against an unseen (and unknown) evil that lurks in the dark forests of the distant hills. Alexa has seen these hills; as the daughter of a leader of Lathbury, she makes the yearly journey to Bridewell, where her father and others convene to discuss matters of import.
Their meeting place is an ancient prison which has been converted to a city hall of sorts, with an extensive library that Alexa loves, and from its tallest towers she can look out on the mysterious countryside which has haunted her from her earliest memories. That is, when she can get away with looking; the Captain of the Guard, a suspicious, arrogant man named Pervis Kotcher, seems to have it in for the 12-year-old. It's almost as if he knows the desire in her heart to somehow escape the walls that surround her world and visit the hills that draw her.
She gets that chance through tragedy, when one of her dearest friends, a city elder named Warvold, tells her a strange riddle, then dies under mysterious circumstances. Taking a golden key from Warvold's locket, a tattered book and an odd map, Alexa embarks on a journey that will have shattering consequences. She will find friends where she doesn't expect to, powers she doesn't understand and danger but not where she thinks it is.
Patrick Carman has created a fascinating world in Elyon, full of magic and puzzles, and a hero in Alexa Daley who is neither plucky nor scared, but instead is curious and resourceful. The young protagonist of The Dark Hills Divide, the first book in a new series, finds worlds opening to her through her love of books, and this well-written juvenile fantasy will do the same for its readers.