Tak O’Leary, down on his luck and unemployed, is contemplating ending it all. Then a phone call changes everything. A mysterious consortium, the Axon Corporation, wants to hire him to lead an exploration into a true undiscovered country: alternate realities. Tak is dubious, but feels he has nothing to lose and takes them up on it—and vanishes for the next four years.
Meanwhile, Samira Moheb, a reservist suffering from PTSD, is struggling to put herself back together before she’s called up for another tour in the Middle East. As an Arabic translator, she’s in high demand—but her experiences over there have broken her, perhaps beyond repair. Then Tak, her best friend from high school, whom she thought dead, calls her with a wild and crazy story: if they don’t stop the Axon Corporation in thirty-six hours, she’s going to die.
With breakneck pacing, The Beautiful Land started with a bang and didn’t let up. The characters are immediately compelling and their adventure gripping, with an entertaining twisty plot that mashes up elements of "Fringe," "Lost," and The Time Traveler’s Wife. While the world-building could be strengthened, the characterizations of Tak and Samira, two damaged, amusingly self-aware, and heartbreakingly real people, are so good that it’s easy to overlook the weaker aspects and just sit back and enjoy the ride. By turns funny and wrenching, this is the best kind of page-turner—a can’t-put-it-down book with heart— and it’s my pick for the winner of the ABNA contest.