‘The Awakening’ is Book One in Nora Roberts’ new series ‘The Dragon Heart Legacy’

An intricately detailed alternate world set just alongside Ireland, a world which has all the charm and natural beauty of Ireland but the addition of witches, fairies, elves, and dragons, makes Nora Roberts’ newest book, “The Awakening,” in her new series “The Dragon Heart Legacy” stand out. When Breen Kelly stumbles across the portal to Talamh, this alternate place brimming with magic, her life changes.

Breen’s life in Philadelphia had been very ordinary. She taught middle school language arts to students who didn’t inspire her. Or didn’t they inspire her because she didn’t love teaching? The truth is that Breen became a teacher because her mother told her that was all she was capable of, and Breen is miserable. But all her life, her mother insisted that Breen was never more than average. There was nothing that she excelled at. And yet Breen does her mother’s bidding, taking care of her home when she’s away.

Breen’s biggest support system is Marco, her roommate and best friend. He’s flamboyantly gay, fiercely loyal, and wonderfully perceptive. She loves spending time with him in their apartment and in the bar he works at, where the owners are loving and embracing to both Marco and Breen.

The first suggestion of something not quite right is when Breen notices a man with silver hair who appears at odd moments and who occasionally catches her eye. But he also disappears when she tries to follow him. One afternoon, while Breen is taking care of her vacationing mother’s home, “wind” blows open a file cabinet that had been unlocked, and while Breen is putting away the documents, she sees a bank account in her name for a huge sum of money. She realizes that her father, who disappeared when she was ten years old and after her parents had divorced, had been sending money for her. Yet Breen’s mother had complained about finances, refused to help Breen with college expenses, and knew that Breen worked two jobs to pay off her student loans.

With her newfound wealth, Breen plans a trip to Ireland over the summer, and after giving notice at her school, she and Marco fly first class to Ireland. Neither has left the country before, and both are thrilled about this trip. Breen is determined to try to find her father and learn why he never returned to America to be a part of her life.

Marco stays for two wonderful weeks, but Breen has planned to stay for three months. She wants time in Ireland to explore the countryside where her father lived, and for the first time in her life, she will be living alone. The cottage she rents is perfect – charming, quaint, filled with beautiful gardens, and on the waterfront. There is a room for Breen to start writing, and Marco has convinced her to write a blog about her adventures.

What Breen finds out about her father and his family is nothing that she could have expected. After following a seemingly stray dog into the woods, she falls through a portal to another world, Talamh, a world inhabited by magical beings. And Breen discovers that her father was the leader of the people in this world, and that she, too, has powers that have heretofore been hidden.

What Breen learns, and the extended family and friends that she meets, shakes her to her core. In this first book in the series, she must overcome her feelings of insecurity and failure that had been drilled into her for decades, and she must embrace her newfound strength, her ability to write, and her empathy for living animals and plants.

The new world of Talamh is on the brink of disaster. An evil being who had been vanquished has returned, and he is intent on harming Breen. She meets the leader of Talamh, Keegan, and he begins to instruct her on self-defense as others show her the ways of magic. We see Breen’s changes as she grows and blossoms into the person that she might already have become had her father not left.

This book focuses on introducing the characters and world building. It’s a beautiful world and one which makes us long to visit Ireland and see the green hills and blue skies and lilting voices of its inhabitants. At over 400 pages, this is not a quick read. There is a lot of description, and some of the dialogue and dream retellings seem repetitious, but through it all, the plot thickens and there is still a hint of danger and evil lurking and threatening Breen.

Roberts is a talented writer. We are drawn into this fascinating world with its universal problems. Those who have the most, for example, often are not satisfied with their power. Roberts addresses the fickle nature of man and religion when she describes a past group, the Pious, who were persecuted but also did “some persecuting of their own.” While those in Talamh just want to live in peace, there are those who crave more and more power and land. Breen’s grandmother, Marg, herself a leader once, comments, “But there are always some, aren’t there, who believe what they believe is the only. And will do whatever it takes to force that belief on all. For me, those who would kill and burn and enslave in the name of a god, well, they don’t hear the god they claim to worship. Or the god is a false and cruel one.”

It’s a statement that is true not just in this fairytale land of magical creatures. It’s also a cruel commentary on our own world. But for the moment, leave our world for the world of Talamh, where we can forget about our own failings and live, even if just for the time it takes us to read some 400 pages, in a fantasy world filled with beautiful rolling hills, waterfalls, deep green forests, dragons, fairies — and horrific danger.

This review was first posted at Bookreporter.com.