In Teresa Flavin’s debut novel The Blackhope Enigma, this illustrator and former art-school lecturer whisks three children into the mystical world of Renaissance painter Fausto Corvo. When Sunni Forest﹘ accompanied by stepbrother Dean﹘ visits Blackhope Tower’s storied Mariner’s Chamber, she hopes only to observe Corvo’s masterpiece, The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, for her high school art project. But, when Dean vanishes in the center of Blackhope’s fabled labyrinth, Sunni and her classmate Blaise must plunge into Corvo’s vibrant maze of interlocking worlds in pursuit of the lost twelve year old. Finding Dean is only the beginning, however, as Sunni, Blaise, and Dean unite against savage “predators”, sea monsters, and their art teacher’s crazed cousin Angus. Will they discover a passage home, or will our trio succumb to the hidden dangers lurking in Corvo’s masterpiece?
While The Blackhope Enigma focuses primarily on external conflict, for the novel’s first two hundred pages the three main characters struck me as somewhat oversimplified; Flavin establishes each character’s dominating traits early on, and, for the bulk of the novel, her characters conform to these traits with no internal conflict whatsoever. For instance, though Angus Bellini, the novel’s primary antagonist, exhibits every manifestation of “evil” imaginable (such as greed, pride, violence, and even gluttony) within the first half of the novel, he lacks all but the slightest glimmers of remorse. Similarly, for the book’s initial two-thirds, Dean seems to function more as a plot device than as a nuanced, three-dimensional character. While deciding whether or not to enter The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, Blaise does wrestle with some ambivalence. Once he arrives, however, this high school freshman faces sea monsters, raging whirlpools, and crumbling ravines with relative bravado. Throughout The Blackhope Enigma, Blaise and Sunni embody all that is brave and virtuous, while Angus personifies malice, greed, and self-centeredness. What dissatisfied me more than these individual traits, however, was each character’s tendency to act﹘ and react﹘ predictably. Thankfully, though The Blackhope Enigma lacks internal conflict, Flavin’s imaginative premise and competent imagery immerse readers in Fausto Corvo’s hideaway of magic and mysticism. Furthermore, Flavin’s dialogue amused me with its humor and charmed me with its sweetness. Though some aspects of The Blackhope Enigma’s fantastical setting felt a tad formulaic, Flavin adorns her novel with fresh, witty details. Because Sunni, Blaise, and Dean spend much of the The Blackhope Enigma wandering through The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, with only the vague hope of getting home to guide them, this novel’s pacing lacks the purposefulness of more goal-directed works. Then again, who wouldn't treasure every extra moment spent exploring Flavin’s imaginative debut?