R.L. King’s The Threshold is the third book in an urban fantasy series chronicling the adventures of Alistair Stone, a mage (practitioner of magic). In this novel Alistair and his companions, Verity Thayer and her brother, Jason, are battling an extra-dimensional enemy called the Evil that feed on human emotions and seek world domination. The trio must find and destroy the portals through which the Evil are invading this world.
As incorporeal beings the Evil can possess the bodies of most humans, but not the bodies of mages or a mysterious group known as the Forgotten. The special abilities of the Forgotten come with a downside: they suffer from various mental disorders that make it difficult for them to function in society. Most of the Forgotten are homeless.
The story moves briskly without sacrificing descriptive detail so necessary to this genre. Its magic fits seamlessly into everyday reality. The extra-dimensional portal in the basement of an Indian restaurant, aptly named A Passage to India, seems as real and believable as a broom closet.
Alistair and his companions are altogether sympathetic. I prefer antiheroes, so this threesome is a bit too white magic for me. But their quirks and imperfections keep them from being bland. Englishman Alistair comes across as a typical college professor, unconventional and sometimes acerbic. His mysterious past makes him intriguing. Teenager Verity is both Forgotten and a mage. Apprenticed to Alistair, she is discovering her abilities as she wrestles with the problems of adolescence. Jason’s only gift is the ability to power Alistair’s spells without depleting himself, a kind of magical battery, but his fierce love for his sister makes him stand out.
Secondary characters are well-drawn, even those who make only a brief appearance. Eleanor Pearsall, the white mage in the opening chapter, is so sweet that it hurts when she’s ambushed by the Evil. And gray mage Trevor Harrison is so compelling that I hope to meet him again in the next book.
Later books in a series are tricky. Often the beginning gets bogged down by exposition or the story cannot stand on its own. King avoids both these pitfalls. She gives just enough information so readers can understand what’s going on. At times the Evil seems like an abstract menace, though, and the trio’s history with the Forgotten feels thin. After finishing The Threshold I backed up and read The Forgotten, which filled in everything that was missing — and more.
If you enjoy urban fantasy, you don’t want to miss this series. You can read The Threshold first, like I did, but for the optimal experience, start with The Forgotten. Once you enter the world of Alistair Stone, you won’t want to leave.