This is yet another book "created by Kobe Bryant" that hits it out of the ballpark, or clears the high jump bar, in this case! I'm totally on a roll with Bryant's sports fantasy series for middle grade.
Epoca: The Tree of Ecrof (force spelled backward ;-) is another tactile and visual reading experience, with exquisite care taken in designing the deep rich purple, textured cover, and the gold lettering, track and tree roots. There's a white book ribbon, kind of like a lace on sports gear, not silky or satiny, more grainy to the touch. Even the pages are printed on gorgeous paper in a blend of rainbow colors.
Pretia is the princess in line to rule Epoca. She's the daughter of a marriage between the two ruling houses. Now, if only her grana, or magical ability manifested through a sport, would come in! She prays to the gods for her grana, even lighting a fire to the forbidden god Hurell.
When her grana manifests, however, it takes her right out of herself and before she knows it she's hurt a boy -- knocked him off a cliff. He's only saved by the fact that the cliff isn't a steep drop and he's stopped mid-way, breaking an arm. But Pretia is convinced her grana was granted by Hurell, and it's bad.
She vows not to use it again, not if it means hurting any of her subjects. Suddenly, going off to the Ecrof Academy to train in using her grana in sports is not at all what she'd hoped. It's a sort of sports grana Hogwarts, and all first year students have to start off in track events and don't get to specialize in basketball or tennis or the other sports until later.
Rovi is living on the streets, orphaned, hungry, with memories of living with his father, a respected inventor and teacher at Ecrof Academy. He's on his own now, reduced to stealing a pair of Grana Gleams, shiny gold sneakers, for his birthday. An older man doesn't exactly help him steal the shoes, but he facilitates Rovi's escape, and later catches up to Rovi. Does Rovi want to come to Ecrof Academy, where he belongs, and can train -- and perhaps learn more about what happened to his father, why he was turned out of Ecrof? Of course!
Rovi and Pretia form an unlikely alliance. Rovi learns his father was expelled from the Academy after ranting about killing it's tree, the Tree of Ecrof. The tree is clearly rotten now, and he wants to steer clear of it. But he's also curious to explore his father's old workshop and his inventions. Pretia must endure her obnoxious cousin Castor's taunts and put-downs, unwilling to use her Hurell-tained grana to prove him wrong, no matter how it gathers around her, screaming to be used.
Together, with their friend and competitor Vera, they discover what's strangling the Tree and it's not what anyone could have imagined. There may have been some truth to Rovi's father's rantings, and Pretia's did have a purpose -- a good purpose -- in coming to Ecrof. Can they save the tree, the heart of Ecrof, by working as a team?
I won't spoil the ending; enjoy the twists!