A Door in the Dark by Scott Reintgen

A door in the dark” Reintgen, Scott. New York : Margaret K. McElderry Books, [2023].

Content Warnings:  Major Character Death, Murder, Torture, Fantasy Drug Use, Grief, Death of a Parent, Body Horror, and Gore

Ren’s father was murdered.  Now she competes against the sons and daughters of the rich and powerful families who killed him at Balmerick, the prestigious magic school that hovers above her city.  She has spent four years working four times harder with four times fewer resources to be at the top of her class.  Still, all this will be for nothing if she does not catch at least one powerful family’s eye.  And Ren is running out of time.

Then, there is an accident.  Ren, three of her fellow scholarship students, and two scions of the city’s elite are caught in a portal gone wrong while heading home from Balmerick.  This leaves them stranded in the Dires, days away from the city and surrounded by untold dangers.  They need all of their combined skills and magic to survive.

One of the students, however, is already dead.  Another member of their group killed him during the original turmoil, but no one knows who.  Each of them has their own secrets, Ren included.  Who will they decide to trust as the road ahead of them gets darker and darker, especially as the group realizes they are being hunted down by something more sinister than they ever imagined?

A Door In The Dark was introduced to me as an addictive young adult fantasy novel for fans of The Hunger Games, I found it to be a horror story that happened to contain magic.  While it starts at a school for magic, this is not a novel for those expecting to attend countless classes and learn the art of spell-slinging.  A Door In The Dark is a story of survival, desperate choices, and how far people will go for revenge.

Ren was a bright spot in this plot for me.  A Door In The Dark is told from her point of view as we understand every hurt she endures, every burst of anger she pushes aside to work with the group, and every bit of guilt she feels over split-second decisions that make the difference between life and death for her and her companions.  She is a morally gray underdog, a bookworm constantly calculating possible outcomes, and a grieving child seething with anger over the injustices in her world.

My biggest concern is that the promised sequel to A Door In The Dark will never be able to live up to this first book.  Why?  It seems to lean more heavily into a romance which was the weakest part of this entry.  We understand why this romance feels stilted from Ren’s point of view, but I am afraid this will fall flat unless the series can show that her love interest is just as complex and multi-faceted.  Fans will have to wait and see how the characters grow.

A Door In The Dark is a new horror fantasy from dystopian author Scott Reintgen.  I recommend it for fans of The Hunger Games, Shadow and Bone, or those looking for a dark take on class differences and what it means to survive in a world that is against you.

Rebecca Mincher is the Children’s Librarian Assistant for Graham Public Library. She can be reached at rzimmerman@alamancelibraries.org.