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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Trip the Light Phantasmic by Judith Sterling is the first book in the Gothic Gwyn Mystery series. Gwyn is adjusting to a major change in her life when she moves to Salem after the passing of her great-aunt. Along with her inheritance comes an assortment of novels that aren't exactly her genre. A Gothic romance novel called Thornehaven catches her eye and Gwyn decides to make an exception in honor of her aunt's memory. Little does she know that this is no ordinary book and she soon discovers that perhaps her aunt left her more than a house - a magical gateway to a fictional world. She finds herself in the world of Thornehaven where she plays the role of protagonist and must decide which characters are friends and which are foes. As she settles into this fictional reality, she navigates where the story is going and tries to understand how she found herself adrift in the first place.
Judith Sterling does a splendid job of implementing a story within a story that comes to life. The world of Gothic romance is well-established with vivid details that draw you into familiar settings reminiscent of the classics. The characters that surround Gwyn provide her with just as much mystery as she learns who they are and what dynamics they have with the protagonist she is portraying. Sterling incorporates amusing details such as a man handsome enough to be her character's love interest, knowing one of the men had to be a romantic hero, and someone was bound to notice she didn't belong especially if they had a sense of the plot. These clever and humorous phrases will be delightful for book lovers.
The relationship with her aunt is at the heart of the story. Her aunt is her self-proclaimed old maid role model and is the person that understood her the most so that bond is important to Gwyn's journey as a whole. Despite being absent from the story, Aunt Ethel is the catalyst for Gwyn's whole adventure. Her presence is still widespread throughout the story as you see her personality and attitude in Gwyn's memory of her. The writing style pairs well with the Gothic setting. Trip the Light Phantasmic is a delightful and original story that follows Gwyn as she falls down the rabbit hole into a Gothic world where she finds mystery, romance, and magic.