A debut middle-grade novel sees a teenage loner discover his magical heritage and become embroiled in an otherworldly conflict.
Middle schooler Wren Larkin lives in Pennsylvania in a peculiar old house designed by his grandfather to resemble a gigantic shoe. Wren has an affinity with nature. He grows plants and befriends a murder of crows. But otherwise, he keeps to himself. Wren’s mother fell into a coma when he was 4 years old. His father is emotionally distant, and his eccentric aunt—the one who told him crazy stories of a magical kingdom named Vinland—died a few years back in a car accident, or so Wren was told. But Wren’s life is about to be turned upside down. The same day he thinks he sees his aunt in the fog, new girl Maria Tovar arrives at school and takes an instant liking to him. She also defends the class troublemaker, Rusty Whitaker. Before Wren knows it, the three are thrown together against a powerful Drainer (a magician who can suck the life out of any living thing). In a world suddenly bristling with magic, Wren and his new friends are armed only with three pairs of enchanted shoes that the teen’s grandfather left for them years ago in a secret room in the quirky house. Were all of his aunt’s stories true? What further secrets lie hidden in Wren’s lineage? In this series opener, Resh writes in the first person, past tense, creating in Wren a complex personality with relatable teen troubles but plenty of strength. The other characters are less nuanced—Rusty in particular is larger than life, verging on a cliché—but this perhaps is in keeping with the infusion of magic in what Wren had taken to be his own, admittedly atypical, corner of the mundane world. The prose throughout is engaging, with the author presenting an agreeable mix of description, narrative, and mostly naturalistic dialogue. The plot is absorbing and gains momentum as it goes along, displaying a wild imagination and pitting its protagonists against genuine peril. The ending may not satisfy those readers who like their books self-contained, but for those who can move directly to the sequel, there’s a great deal here to like.
An engrossing fantasy laced with inventive sparkle and dark undercurrents.
Review by Emily on Goodreads
~a middle-grade hit that was a total surprise~
Brief Synopsis: Wren Larkin’s life starts to turn upside down when he starts seeing ghosts, the new girl at school seems to know him somehow, and a group of really strange people show up at his house…his house that’s shaped like a shoe.
I was totally blown away by this debut! The pacing was spot on throughout the whole book, which is a difficult feat, and the world-building was just SO cool and SO unique!
The highest praise I can probably give is that I started getting hardcore Hobbit vibes from this book - just calmly and unpretentiously world-building a masterpiece right before our eyes, and filling this world with an incredible cast of characters! (This was, of course, after the beginning gave me “Double Double Toil and Trouble” (the Mary Kate and Ashley movie) vibes, which is also high praise!)
Cannot wait for more books in this series because I wanna know way more about Vinland and some magic shoes 👟✨
Review by Pikasho Deka for Readers Favorite
Compass to Vinland is an adventure fantasy novel written by Dani Resh. Wren Larkin feels invisible amongst the inhabitants of his hometown, Lewisberry, with a mother who has been in a coma since he was four and a seemingly disinterested father. But his life turns upside down when he becomes friends with the town bad boy, Rusty, and Maria, a new student in his school. Together, the friends discover a hidden room underneath Wren's house where his grandfather stored three shoes inscribed with their names. When Drainers attack his house, seeking the shoes, Wren finds himself embroiled in a larger conspiracy involving Unbreakable magic that forces him and his friends to flee to the settlement of Underfoot. Now, Wren must stand with his allies against the Wrathful before they wreak havoc.
Author Dani Resh takes you on a wild rollercoaster of a ride that you don't want to get off. Compass to Vinland is an invigorating adventure odyssey full of magic and charm that keeps you entertained all the way through. Moving at a blistering pace, the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways, keeping you engaged and making you turn the pages with eager anticipation of what's to come. The characters are full of life, with distinct personalities that make for some compelling character arcs. I adored Wren, Maria, and Rusty's friendship, and the dynamic between the three propels the narrative forward. Compass to Vinland is a book that kids of all ages should be able to enjoy. If you love shows like Stranger Things, give it a go.
Reviewed by Kristine Zimmerman for Readers' Favorite
Compass to Vinland by Dani Resh is an engrossing magical tale. Wren is a teen who lives with his father in a house shaped like a shoe. Every day he feeds the crows and tends the plants in his greenhouse before heading to school. He also regularly visits his mother who is in a coma. One day strange things start to happen. He thinks he sees his dead aunt on the way to school and Maria, the new girl in school, acts as if she knows him. Then he discovers that the locked trunk in his father's room leads to a hidden workshop beneath his house! Soon he, Maria, and Rusty, the resident bad boy at school, are entwined in an unforgettable adventure.
Compass to Vinland was a book I couldn't put down. Dani Resh does an outstanding job of developing all her characters. Her writing pulled me in right away with the description of Wren and his daily routine, taking care of the birds and plants, and the distance he feels from his dad. Then the exciting and intriguing adventure starts, and the action doesn't stop. As a former children's librarian, I would definitely recommend this to kids that loved Harry Potter or Septimus Heap. Resh has created a unique world filled with characters we care about, strange creatures, new lands, and unusual magical powers. I am eagerly waiting to read the next book in the series. Compass to Vinland has it all: magic, adventure, villains, and heroes. I highly recommend this book!
Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Wren’s not the most popular boy in town. It doesn’t help that he’s so thin and tall and he lives in a house that looks like an old shoe. He hates school, especially the teacher, but he loves his birds, making birdhouses, and growing things in his greenhouse. Things start to change when a new girl moves to town. Maria seems to know him before she’s even introduced. And the other misfit, Rusty, considered by many to be a bad boy, really was very insightful and trusting. The three bond together as if it were meant to be, and when they find three pairs of shoes hidden under the heel of Wren’s shoe house, life becomes quite magical and unexpected. There is evil on the children’s trail, an evil that has designs for these shoes as they have magical powers meant only for the children. And, there is a heritage that Wren is about to discover, a journey to another reality that will help him learn who he really is.
Dani Resh’s fantasy novel, Compass to Vinland, is the first book in a middle-grade fantasy series. Told in the first-person narrative from Wren’s point of view, the plot is full of captivating twists and turns and the dynamics between the young people are so realistic, young readers will instantly relate. There are all manner of characters one would expect to find in a middle-grade school setting: bullies and those who are bullied, those who wish and try to remain invisible, mean teachers, team leaders, evildoers, dysfunctional adults and so much more. This makes the story very realistic. The compass, interestingly, is more than a treasure. A tool to guide young people, it's a metaphor for life itself and where it will take us. Fascinating concept. The descriptive narrative is full of interesting details. Dialogue breaks up the lengthy narrative passages and helps move the story along. This book will definitely appeal to the older middle-grade audience.
Reviewed by Dakota Love from Reedsy Discovery
Young Wren Larkin is a friendless boy who lives in a sleepy town in Pennsylvania where nothing ever seems to change. But as a mysterious fog rolls in, Wren's whole life is turned upside down as myth becomes a startling reality. Wren and his new friends, Rusty and Maria, are swiftly drawn into a web of magical intrigue. Soon, the battles begin, heralds of a great war yet to come.
Compass to Vinland is a gripping narrative that draws the reader into its world of myth and magic from the very first chapter. Young Wren is a character that is easy to identify with, as he struggles with his complicated family dynamic and finding his place in the world. As Wren is aided by Rusty, the teenage tough kid with a difficult home life and a heart of gold, the action starts to hit high gear. Maria, the determined girl who doesn't hesitate to speak her mind, also joins in for a journey of epic proportions that doesn't stop until the final page.
I loved the complex mythos of the world, and the inclusion of many world cultures, from Viking legend to Native American lore. The story discusses the importance of tolerance at length, without being overly preachy about it. There are bold storytelling moments, with multiple characters facing their difficult family situations. And there is such a rich variety of characters that are memorable and relatable, from the conflicted Tristan to the edgy Eyota and her best friend to the hard-as-nails Mrs. Tovar. The story was so engrossing that I truly felt transported to this legendary world, and the final chapter left me hungry for more.
Book one wraps up neatly, but leaves plenty of room for a sequel. There are only a few bumps in the storytelling. Wren was so easy to identify with that it was unclear whether the character was male or female until the end of chapter two. I disliked the dishonesty of a few of the characters, especially towards the end of the book. The true nature of the compass to Vinland is still a bit shrouded in mystery, and the large publisher watermark present on every page also made it difficult to read at times. However, these are very small problems in a very large, complex setting, where true tolerance may be the key to saving the world.
With intense battle scenes, minor language, and a complex view of the reality of finding a place to call home, this book is perfect for ages 12 and up, and all avid readers of fantasy. When the "normal" world and the realm of legends collide, the action never stops!
Customer Review from Barnes and Noble
5 Stars - Magic and Family
The best fantasy writing teaches us about humanity and contains magical worlds that reveal more about the human condition. This captivating tale does just that! At its heart, it’s a story about family…in all of its messiness and challenge…and growing up, finding one’s path, and expanding notions of what and who counts as family — or finding one’s “found family.” As young Wren makes his way, through self-discovery and magic, we grow to care about him and feel like we’re on the journey with him. This book is a joy! Full of relatable, endearing characters! And perhaps most importantly, Resh’s smart, empathetic approach and gentle hand (never forcing the dialogue or attempting to write “for young adults”) wins over readers of all ages! I highly recommend this book and look forward to book #2!
Customer Review from Amazon:
I have been reading some heavy books the past couple years and I’ve been struggling to complete them. This book was a fantastic reprieve. I could not put the book down once I picked it up. I read it from cover-to-cover and I found myself missing the characters and adventure when I was done which is always a sign of a good book. I cannot wait for the next book!
Customer Review from Barnes and Noble:
5 stars - My 7th Graders LOVED It!
I have twin 12 year olds who both devoured this book! They are avid readers & especially enjoy fantasy & sci fi. Both said they enjoyed it more than Harry Potter & can’t wait for it to be made into a film! Quite the endorsement. Compass had them hooked & they are now eagerly awaiting the next installment in the Magic Shoe series!!
Review from Goodreads:
5 Stars - Review from my daughter, Paige, 11 (IG account @paige.s.reading for more reviews and pics)
Compass to Vinland is captivating, full of magic, and suspenseful story. I think the story is original, brilliant, and well-written. There were a lot of plot twists and turns that made the story very engaging. I liked Maria Tovar because she is intelligent, and I also admired her power to read minds. The book is beyond excellent. Thank you, Dani Resh, for sending me your book. I liked the book so much that one day, I would like to reread it.