In Hearlight, twelve-year-old Kate is devoted to her scientist grandfather, and when he withdraws into round-the-clock work in his laboratory, she determines to draw him out of his solitude. Instead, he draws her into the world he has discovered, of PCL, or ”Pure Condensed Light” — a force, he says, that powers the universe.

When Kate and Grandfather learn that the sun is mysteriously and rapidly burning out, they determine to save it by journeying to the mysterious star Trethoniel, a source of PCL. Their dazzling trip to distant galaxies on the backs of giant butterflies, complete with terrifying monsters, otherworldly beings, and genuinely frightening space battles, climaxes in a bittersweet victory over the forces of darkness.

This novel, T.A. Barron’s first, is bound to be leaped on with joy by devotees of Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, and Katherine Peterson. Like them, Barron weds Christian theology with fantasy; his heroes are members of an intellectual elite fortified by Christian virtue and faith. Yet unlike those authors, who can draw on Christian beliefs and symbols without undermining their stories’ emotional force and universality, Barron makes his religiosity intrusive. The characters recite prayers and sing hymns, and the overbearingly paternalistic grandfather even says (with a twinkle), ”God is very forgiving of Oxford men.” Except in the liberating passages about outer space, this feels like sci-fi for Episcopalians only. B-

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