– JOAN SILVERMAN

In the last two decades, Elizabeth Hand has written a dozen books and racked up almost as many awards. Readers know her as an author of sci-fi, horror and fantasy tales, some of them set in Maine.

Hand’s latest title, “Illyria,” is being marketed for young adults, though this lyrical, edgy novel is well-suited to adults of any age.

“Illyria” opens in Westchester, N.Y., circa 1975, at a family compound overlooking the Hudson River. The property, a group of faded mansions, conveys an air of benign neglect. The same holds true inside. The Tierneys are a sprawling clan of cousins, aunts and uncles, whose lives and houses are endlessly intertwined.

Two of the cousins, Maddy and Rogan, have been friends since childhood; as teenagers, their bond becomes electric. That they’re both twins, and born on the same day, is one of many portents that draws these two together.

Another is their penchant for theater. The young Maddy reveres her family’s acting lineage. Her great-grandmother, Madeline Armin Tierney, was a grande dame of the theater celebrated for her leading roles. Maddy, lacking her namesake’s assets, can only dream of that life.

Rogan, by contrast, is a beautiful bad boy whose preternatural gifts — an ease and charm, and the voice of an angel — may well be wasted on him. His keening tenor turns heads at church, on stage, anywhere he can be heard.

The cousins’ theatrical leanings, however, win little support from their stodgy parents. It takes the machinations of their bohemian Aunt Kate to intervene on their behalf. Over the course of several weeks, she takes the pair to a number of Broadway shows, further whetting their appetite.

While Maddy and Rogan get a proper introduction to theater, their own drama plays out on other stages. Rogan’s third-floor bedroom turns out to be a haven with unexpected chambers. One door leads to another, and behind a pile of boxes sits a toy theater fully constructed with miniature lights, curtains and scenery. The mysteries of this remarkable tiny artifact — how it got there, and how it appears to change seasons, or time of day — captivate the pair, who arrange their trysts in this enchanted space.

A parallel universe awaits at school, where the two play key roles in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” — Maddy as Viola, and Rogan, handily stealing the show, as the clown, Feste.

“When he first opened his mouth and sang I heard a gasp go through the audience, as though everyone had at the same instant touched a burning wire,” Maddy says. “Then the house fell silent.”

The author’s lens moves back and forth between the shimmering microcosm of the toy theater and the footlights of the school stage; between the shadowy pairing of the cousins and their jumbled family life at home. Each setting mirrors the others, as the cousins navigate among their shifting public and private roles.

The fate of Maddy and Rogan, their forbidden love and future paths, take a number of twists and turns engineered, in part, by Aunt Kate. A central theme in this deceptively slim novel is the inequity of talent — that great gifts, left unschooled, go to waste, while more modest talent, properly trained, can bloom for years.

Among “Illyria’s” many pleasures is its refusal to become predictable. Maddy narrates the story as a teenager, with the angst and longing that befit her adolescence. Hand manages to convey first love with a teenager’s urgency, as if that teen happened also to be an accomplished writer. Then the book fast-forwards to the present, with Maddy panning through her adulthood and chronicling the juncture of her path, midlife, with Rogan’s.

This sleight-of-hand adds depth to a story that could easily have ended decades earlier. It also provides a latter-day glimpse of Maddy and Rogan at middle age, their bond ambiguous as ever.

Joan Silverman writes op-eds, essays and book reviews.REVIEW

“ILLYRIA.” Elizabeth Hand. Viking. 144 pages. $15.99