Ridley Pearson returns to the world of the Kingdom Keepers with his new book The Return. The DHI’s, Disney Host Interactive holograms, Finn, Philby, Willa, Charlene, and Maybeck are back after defeating the Overtakers (Disney Villains) in Disneyland, and they are ready to move on to college and away from their roles as DHI’s. After reading through seven books about their adventures beginning in their early teens, it’s nice to see the characters grow. Everyone wants to move on and be done with their past adventures in the parks except Finn Whitman, the leader.

Finn is still grieving the loss of Wayne, the veteran Imagineer who invented the DHI program and who mentored the DHI’s in their battles against the Overtakers. He died at the hands of the Overtakers in The Insider, but he left a clue that has gnawed at Finn. A watch with the inscription it’s about time, causing Finn to be obsessed with decrypting its meaning. The problem is no one else shares Finn’s obsession, and they worry about his health. Finn spends the first fifty pages of the book trying to get his friends to listen to him.

Charlene is in California filming a Disney Channel show. His friends Amanda and Jess, close friends of all of the Kingdom Keepers, are attending the Disney School for Imagineering in California, and Philby, Maybeck and Willa are trying to move on to college and away from their nightly adventures at the Disney Parks. You get caught between feeling for everyone who just wants to have a normal life and you pity Finn who can’t get anyone to listen to him. Finn was always the leader and everyone looked to him for guidance, accept for now.

After persistent efforts, Finn first breaks through to Philby. Finn has an ally which is good because on his next cross over into Disneyland, Finn discovers time travel. When the music box in Walt’s Apartment in Disneyland plays and Finn rides Mrs. Disney’s favourite horse Jingles on King Arthur’s Carousel, the rider, Finn, is transported back in time.

Since our characters are now travelling into the past, in future books, I hope Pearson includes Walt and Roy Disney, and some Imagineering legends like John Hench as characters. They wouldn’t necessarily need to interact with the main characters, but could at least be in the same scenes with them.

The Overtakers make minor appearances in the book. After convincing Willa to join him, she and Finn survive a battle with Pain and Panic from the Hercules movie, as well as with the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, but that is it. We don’t need every villain in the Disney pantheon popping out in this book. The Return is the set up for everything to come in this new series.

Maybeck joins Finn for another trip into the past where they meet a young Wayne. It is two weeks before opening day of Disneyland in 1955, and Finn brings Wayne a file detailing the construction of color television transmission. The young Wayne instructs Finn to get every Keeper together on his next journey into the past.

Jess and Amanda’s arc in the story is a nice step away from the Keepers. Jess and Amanda who have been friends with the Keepers since the first book get more development as independent characters rather than supporting characters. Jess and Amanda are attending the Disney School for Imagineering. They are accepted as normal eighteen year olds, even though they can dream the future and use telekinesis.

Jess and Amanda befriend Tim and Emily, upper year students at the DSI. Tim tells the girls about the history of their dorms, an old hotel that has a tragic tale of disappearing guests that may be the true inspiration for the Tower of Terror attraction. Emily and Amanda even go on a daring mission to retrieve files buried in the dorm basement archives that detail the Imagineers development of colored television transmission for Finn and the rest of the Keepers.

Finally, a Skype call amongst all the Keepers convinces DHI Charlene, to join the other Keepers at Disneyland and ride King Arthur’s Carousel to opening day of Disneyland in 1955. They are dressed in period clothes and when they emerge after traveling through time they meet Finn’s friend, the younger version of Wayne. The book concludes with the Keepers wondering if they should walk out the door and into history. Their decision to explore the past is exciting because it lets you the reader wonder what they will encounter.

This is a great book. Our heroes are older and changing and they, like many eighteen year olds, are starting to move away from the magic of Disney. There is no great villain in the book because we don’t need one.  Isolation, fear, conformity, and loss are all emotions everyone feels at any age and they support this story in so many ways. Any reader can connect with the characters. The Return brings in a lot of adult themes that were not as prevalent in past Kingdom Keeper books. The fact that Pain and Panic from Hercules are wandering Disneyland, and sets up the readers to be introduced to more terrifying Overtakers like Hades. The devil himself might become a villain in a future book; I wonder how long it will take before we see him? Maybeck talks about how uncomfortable he is traveling back to the 1950’s. Being an African American he is bound to experience things very differently from his fellow Keepers.

These are all great building blocks to an exciting new series of adventures in the Disney Parks. I look forward to exploring the 1950’s with the Kingdom Keepers and seeing a whole new side to the Disney Parks.