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Four misfit kids fight folklore monsters using science.
It’s 2046, and science and technology are on the decline while psychics, the paranormal, and superstitions run rampant. People travel to school or work on horseback or by bike, and at Bardsville Middle School; ghosts harass the kids and teachers alike.
Odd-looking eleven-year-old NOVA, is particularly targeted, by both ghosts and school bullies. She is taunted for looking like a boy and for being stronger than most kids her age. So she, along with her friends TAKEESHA, MAX KIM, and a wheelchair-bound BENNY, decide to kick some ghost and bully butt.
First, Nova and Takeesha try to contact the ghosts using a Ouija board. But Nova sees a mysterious man with a white beard in the reflection of the window. Then she is dragged all over the library by an unseen force until she is led to a book about Neanderthals. She is not sure what it means but is determined to find out.
Then she is biking back to the farm where she lives with her mother, sister and brother, Nova encounters a strange rainbow and inexplicably loses several hours out of the middle of the day.
That weekend, she, Takeesha, Max Kim and Benny meet at the farm for a picnic and strategy session. The kids name their group The Shade Riders after Shade, Nova’s newborn filly, who in the right light seems to have wings. They decide to use Benny’s science knowledge to learn more about the ghosts before they take them on again. But then, on the picnic in the woods, Nova views a fight between two men reflected in the mirror Max Kim brought out to show magic tricks. It is the mysterious white bearded man from the library, and another dirty man.
When the dirty man wins the fight, he sends ghosts after the kids, who get chased back to Nova’s farm. The ghosts scream they have Nova’s father and they will keep him forever. This is both shocking and hopeful since, she thought her father was dead.
On a shopping trip with her mother the following week, Nova picks up an unexpected ally- an enigmatic, even-tempered woman named Leandra Contrast. Leandra gives Nova a mysterious wrist watch before calmly disappearing in front of Nova’s eyes. Later that night, Leandra appears in one of Nova’s dreams and explains she is a sorceress who can travel between the nine worlds. One of these worlds is experiencing a war between two Neanderthal tribes, and it’s up to Nova to help the best one win. When Nova tells Takeesha about Leandra, Takeesha grows jealous.
At school, a few days later, Nova is once again harassed by the ghosts. But as she is watching them execute a ghost version of herself in horrible ways, Leandra’s eye appears in the face of her watch to make sure she is all right. In the school, Benny hands out various scientific devices to take measurements of the ghosts as a way of figuring out what causes them and how to stop them. They discover that the ghosts trigger the ammeter-they give off an electrical field. And later that day, when the bullies begin to bother Nova, she finally loses her patience and belts one in the jaw. After that they leave her alone.
At the school science fair- heavily harassed by ghosts, who seem to hate all science—the Shade Riders continue to search for a way to fight back against the ghosts. Nova finds that Takeesha is growing more distant and hostile. When the ghosts menace Nova, Leandra appears in the watch and does something to scare the ghosts. To both Nova and Leandra’s surprise, the ghosts simply disappear with a ripping sound.
The Shade Riders find out that Shade though still a filly can fly and she has a slipstream behind her that can hold up weight. Leandra reveals that Shade is a gift to Nova from the Neanderthal tribe she is to help and invites the Riders to her house. There, though magic, she temporarily ages Shade to full grown.
Leandra also reveals that she can do magic because she has some Neanderthal blood, but Nova has even more- her father, Ralf, is a full-blooded Neanderthal. Ralf is an Idealite living in Ordin. It is one of the last matriarchal societies in any of the worlds. The Idealites are under attack, and Nova must help, especially since Ralf has been captured – he is the white-haired man Nova has been seeing in her dreams – and does not have long to live. Leandra offers to teach Nova magic. When Takeesha learns that she can’t learn magic as well, she is crushed.
On a lark, Nova and her mother visit a local medium named Nocturnal Ned, who turns out to be a fraud and a rather shoddy one. Less than a week later, Nova is to meet Takeesha. When Takeesha doesn’t show, Nova goes looking for her and finds her as part of a gang vandalizing downtown businesses. As she watches, the gang is attacked by a huge, violent, iridescent pink, and iridescent green man. But the man is overpowered by a winged horse- Shade. When Nova goes to Benny and Max Kim to report, Benny says he has made a breakthrough on the ghosts. His hypothesis is the ghosts are made from infra-sound caused by an aura borealis above the town.
Later, Leandra informs Nova that she is hunting another powerful sorcerer who can hurtle fireballs – Nocturnal Ned. Nova can’t believe that this could be the medium she and her mother visited, but she still tells Benny about it. He agrees to develop a weapon to fight against fireballs.
Benny comes up with a gun that shoots bubbles, but before they can show it to Leandra, Takeesha blows up and leaves the group. Not long after the remaining three get to Leandra’s house, Nocturnal Ned arrives on a motorcycle, transforms into a huge iridescent pink and green man –to Nova’s surprise – and starts throwing fireballs at Leandra. While Leandra fights back, the kids use bubble guns to put out fires the fireballs have started.
Nova artificially ages Shade at night and, for the first time, takes her flying. Afterwards, one of Takeesha’s gang friends tries to steal her at gunpoint. Nova inadvertently freezes the thief and calls on Leandra. Leandra arrives with a Neanderthal companion who takes responsibility for the frozen thief while Leandra explains that Nova’s powers are greater than she’d thought. Afterwards, Takeesha reveals that she wants out of the gang, but is frightened. Meanwhile, Benny is building a five wheeled cart, with his wheelchair integrated into one side, that can be pulled behind Shade.
Nova, riding on an artificially-aged Shade, helps Takeesha convince the gang that Takeesha is a shaman. This frightens them enough that they decide to leave her alone.
After the Riders train Shade to pull the cart, Leandra declares that they’re finally ready and leads them into the world of Ordin – a beautifully wooded place. But nearly as soon as they arrive, Shade is hit by an arrow from beneath and wounded.
Nova manages to land and hook up with Leandra’s allies, who take care of Shade. Then one of them, without Nova’s permission, hijacks Shade to spy out the enemy. Nova manages to get on Shade’s back with him, but the two are captured by Ahlon, the evil sorcerer, who is holding Ralf. Nova finally gets to see her father.
As Ahlon taunts Nova and threatens to kill her father, Nova exorcises the ghost possessing her father and sets him free. Leandra also arrives on Shade, who is wounded but still fighting. The three of them engage Ahlon in an epic magical battle. Ralf is wounded, and Ahlon manages to encase him and Leandra in a block of ice. But Nova outwits Ahlon, giving her a chance to summon her own ghost to possess him.
Afterwards, Nova learns that, though he could not contact her, her father has been watching over her all her life. He misses her and her mother and arranges to be in touch. Finally, after several days of celebratory banquets, the Shade Riders (and a fully healed Shade) are returned to the point in time where they left. Benny using instructions from the Idealites, constructs a machine that disrupts the ghosts, so that their teacher is free to teach science once again. And Nocturnal Ned, whom Ahlon had possessed and imbued with power, is arrested as a charlatan.