This is Book 1 of the Bakkian Chronicles, which is, naturally, a trilogy. The premise is a simple one: Steve Miller learns that he has inherited a mansion from his little-known grandparents. When he and his wife Sarah go to investigate, they find themselves stepping through a portal into a strange new world, one where griffins, dragons and magic exist.
Now, I like the idea of a portal. It's a simple and effective trick to set straightforward modern-day people in a fantasy world. The reader finds it easy to identify with Steve and Sarah, with no need to understand complicated backstories for them, the fantasy world can be explained step-by-step by the clueless newbies asking questions or simply walking into trouble, and there's an immediate set of problems to be solved - survival, first and foremost, and ultimately a return to the home world. Plus, portals are compelling by their very nature. Who could not read Narnia, and then look at their own wardrobe and think... if only?
The trouble with portals, however, is that they've been done to death, and it's increasingly hard to put an original spin on it. The hapless arrivals blunder around getting into and out of trouble, and eventually get drawn into whatever big event is going on in the fantasy world. What's new to say? The twist here is that the protagonists are a happily married couple, and hurray for that, something which is all too rare in fantasy. Problem is, Steve and Sarah are just too nice. They rarely so much as disagree, and when they do, it's over in a flash and they're high-fiving or hugging. There's altogether too much enthusiasm for their newfound world, in fact. They are lovely people, in the real world sense, and I would be delighted to have them as neighbours or workmates or friends, but for my taste fictional characters need a bit more bite to make them interesting.
Another problem I had is with grandma and grandpa. You would think, wouldn't you, that if you planned to leave your house to your unknown grandson, knowing that sooner or later he would blunder unwittingly through the magic portal and all too probably be eaten by a griffon, that a hint or two on health and safety issues, and how to get back might be in order? Unless the family feud is so serious that the griffon-eating is actually the intention... BAD grandma and grandpa.
Up to the halfway point, I struggled to find the spark in this book. But with the appearance of Kahvel the dragon, things begin to pick up and the book finds its proper tone - lighthearted and humorous, with Steve's infectious enthusiasm finally winning me over. The macho contest between dragon and man was a highlight, and the expedition with the dragon and five soldiers turned into a very entertaining romp. The battle with the guur was very satisfactory (I hate bugs too). Although I have to say, the idea of a dragon of Kahvel's size sneaking up on anyone without being noticed stretches credibility somewhat.
This book will never win any prizes for originality or depth, and it has no literary pretensions. The writing style is basic, characterisation is flat and the point of view head-hops with dizzying speed. It fails to provide any unexpected plot twists, and there's not as much humour as I might have expected, in the early parts at least. And having criticised it to death, I have to say that, actually, I rather enjoyed it. If there were few stand-out pluses, there was nothing that really grated, either. It's incredibly readable, with a certain charm and plenty of lively action in the second half, and that was more than enough to keep me turning the pages. For those who enjoy a straightforward traditional easy to read fantasy, this would certainly fit the bill. It doesn't quite make it to four stars, but it's a good three stars.