Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

New fantasy YA brings a together a group of Royal Bastards

Royal Bastards (Royal Bastards #1), by Andrew Shvarts, (Jun 2017, Hyperion), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484767658

Recommended for ages 14+

This new fantasy series follows a group of Royal Bastards – illegitimate children of royals – as they try to save a royal princess’ life and prevent a war. Sixteen year-old Tilla is the bastard daughter of Lord Kent of the Western Province; she lives in comfortable accommodations, but her father has held her at arm’s distance ever since his legitimate wife bore him two daughters. Tilla’s half brother, Jax, from a different father, lives on Kent’s lands as a stablehand. While Jax is happy with life as it is, Tilla longs for legitimacy and a better relationship with her father; two things he’s withheld from her thus far. She’s invited to her father’s banquet honoring the visiting royal princess Lyriana, and sits at the bastard table with Miles, a bastard from neighboring House Hampsted, and Zell, a trueborn son-turned-bastard from the warrior Zitochi clan of the North. Lyriana insists on sitting with them and getting to know them, and ends up tagging along on what was supposed to be an evening out between just Jax and Tilla. While out at the shore, the group stumbles upon a horrific and treasonous episode that puts every one of their lives in danger: in Miles’ and Tilla’s cases, even from their own parents.

The group of teens is on the run, hoping to make it back to Lyriana’s kingdom before the combined forces of Lord Kent, Lady Hampsted, and the Zitochi clan can catch them. The bastards have to stay alive, prevent a mage slaughter, and a civil war that will claim thousands of lives – can they get along long enough to survive the journey?

There’s a lot of story to unpack in this first book. The biggest stumbling block for me was the contemporary language used in the high fantasy setting. It’s off-putting and took me out of the flow of the novel. Vernacular aside, Royal Bastards is a fast-paced adventure, loaded with intrigue, betrayal, and teen romance. I like the world-building: a fantasy world where bastards are recognized and can gain legitimacy if their parents choose to bestow it upon them; a major coup in the works, and plenty of intrigue and betrayal to keep things interesting. There’s rich character development, particularly in the relationship between Jax and Tilla and Tilla’s growth throughout the novel. There’s some diversity in the characters, although some fantasy tropes pop up here; most notably, the clueless royal who wants to meet “the little people” and the brooding, fur-wearing savage.

YA fantasy fans will dig in and enjoy this one. I’d booktalk Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules as an interesting counterpart that looks at the relationship between royals and their children and war. Talk up the Game of Thrones books to readers that may be familiar with the HBO series. Give a copy of Joshua Khan’s Shadow Magic and Dream Magic books to younger siblings who aren’t ready for this one yet.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle School, mythology, Tween Reads

Loki’s daughter has her say in The Monstrous Child

The Monstrous Child, by Francesca Simon, (June 2017, Faber & Faber), $11.95, ISBN: 9780571330270

Recommended for ages 12+

Being the daughter of a giantess and the god of mischief is hard enough, but being born as a half-corpse on top of it? No wonder Hel, daughter of Loki and Angrboda, has a chip on her shoulder. Her older brothers are a snake and a wolf, her half-brothers are human – but they’re jerks, and her father’s no prize, whether or not he’s a Marvel and Tumblr heartthrob in another universe.

So goes the story of Francesca Simon’s The Monstrous Child. Narrated by Hel herself, it’s Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for the middle school set. We read about her anger at Odin’s casting her into Niffelheim to rule over the dead, and the pain of her unrequited love for Baldr, the most beautiful of the Norse gods. We discover her friendship with a frost giant, condemned to oversee the bridge to Hel’s realm, and the despair that leads her to consider a role in Ragnarok: The Twilight of the Gods.

I loved this book. As a fan of Norse myth and YA, I enjoyed seeing the myths from Hel’s perspective: an outcast, literally cast away from her family; forced to make her way on her own. She suffers loneliness, the pain of loving someone unavailable, and the desire for revenge. This is a perfect addition to middle school libraries, and a great way to connect ancient myths to contemporary YA. Hel’s voice is clear and strong; supporting characters also have defined personalities and the dialogue – both Hel’s internal dialogue and the dialogue between characters, particularly between Hel and Loki, is delicious.

Francesca Simon has delved into Greek and Norse myth in the past. While I’m not sure if her books The Sleeping Army and The Lost Gods are part of The Monstrous Child‘s Universe, as they take place on Midgard (Earth), I’m still going to add them to my collection to stand next to Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, because the kids at my library read any and all things fictional myth. The Monstrous Child stands on its own as a solid work of Norse myth and middle school-level fiction. Younger readers will be familiar with Ms. Simon’s Horrid Henry intermediate series.

Originally released in hardcover in May 2016, The Monstrous Child‘s paperback release is due out in a few short weeks. You can grab a copy from your library right now!

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Alien invasion and rebellion: Shattered Warrior

Shattered Warrior, by Sharon Shinn/Illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag, (May 2017, :01FirstSecond), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626720893

Recommended for ages 14+

It’s been eight years since Colleen Cavanaugh’s world was invaded, her people enslaved. The Derichets, a warlike alien race, have human slaving in mines and factories, mining and refining minerals to power their weapons and their technology. Colleen, who lost most of her family in the invasion, discovers that her young niece, Lucy, is alive, and bribes the Derichets to get her back. Along with Jann, a member of a gang called the Chromatti, Colleen, Lucy, and Jann try to stay off everyone’s radar and live quietly, a small family of their own. But Colleen is also helping a rebel group that’s causing big problems for the Derichets. When a chance for a big strike against the aliens presents itself, Jann and Colleen have to take it – even if there are dire consequences.

Sharon Shinn is a bestselling sci-fi author; Shattered Warrior is her first graphic novel, illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag, best known for her Strong Female Protagonist webcomic. Shattered Warrior is the first volume in this story of love amidst rebellion; Shinn and Ostertag certainly have come together to give us a strong female protagonist in Colleen. She’s strong, having endured the invasion of her world and enslavement of her race; the deaths of her family; and now, the discovery of her niece. She keeps her household going in the face of an utterly bleak future, but refuses to open herself to love because she can’t deal with the pain of losing. As the novel progresses, she ultimately realizes that love provides the power to keep going, and falls in love with Jann. The novel ends on a cliffhanger, ensuring that we’ll all be waiting for the next installment.

We don’t know much about the Derichets. We know they’re a warrior race that relies on Colleen’s world’s natural resources and that they appear to be brutal in their methods. We know that some of them have an eye for human women. The Chromatti are barely a step up from a street gang, attacking humans and Derichets alike. The Shattered Warrior characters live in a savage world where survival is the primary directive; everything else comes second, but the main characters still find a way to find small joys where they present themselves. It’s an interesting character study and a story that readers will enjoy. Booktalk this one with War of the Worlds for a new book/classic read pairing.

 

 

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Nocturnals Return in The Fallen Star

The Nocturnals (Book 3): The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (May 2017, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020057

Recommended for readers 8-12

The lovable group of Nocturnal sleuths is back in their third adventure, this time with high stakes: the forest’s pomelos have been poisoned, and the flowers that cure the sickness are disappearing! As the group watches a star fall one evening, they meet a mysterious aye-aye, Iris, who declares that the forest is being invaded and monsters from space have poisoned the pomelos! Dawn, ever the thoughtful and skeptical fox, is suspicious, and seeks a more down-to-earth reason, but things become more tense when they discover that animals in the forest are getting sick, including poor Tobin, who’ve all eaten pomelos. The blue flowers that help cure the sickness are disappearing, and a strange blue glow shows up right before the flowers start disappearing. This sounds like a job for the Nocturnals!

This third book in the animal friends series takes no prisoners: things are tense, with the friends racing against time to help their sick friends and find out the truth behind the poisoned fruit and disappearing cure. Bismark is in full narcissist with a heart of gold mode, proclaiming he speaks alien (and then slipping and admitting it was gibberish) and wooing Dawn every chance he gets. Dawn is still the most focused and perceptive member of the group, and sweet, gentle Tobin is the source of possibly the greatest fart joke in the history of children’s literature, giving readers much-needed comic relief throughout the white knuckle moments The Fallen Star is filled with.

We also meet some more animals in this book; most notably, an Aye-aye named Iris, and the woylies, a group of small marsupials who pitch in to help the Nocturnals. You can find more information about Aye-ayes at Zooborns.com, and Whiteman Park, a conservation center in Australia, has a downloadable fact sheet available on the endangered woylie.

This Aye-aye has its eyes on you! (source: Zooborns.com)
Woylie: Now say it with an Australian accent! (Source: whitemanpart.com.au)

Teamwork, friendship, and determination sees the friends through this latest adventure, and there’s a lovely message about tolerance that is especially important reading.

Things have started taking off for Nocturnals since the first book published last year!  The Nocturnals World website offers Boredom Busters, face painting tips, and a wealth of educational resources for classrooms and libraries, and the New York Public Library, in conjunction with Fabled Films, launched a read-aloud writing program in New York City public schools.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power – what will she see next?

Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power, by Jennifer Hamburg/Illustrated by Jenn Harney, (Feb. 2017, Farrar Straus Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-374-30494-2

Recommended for readers 7-10

Third grader Hazel Bloom (call her Hazy, please) is having visions – peas flying in the air, eggs crashing to the ground – that come true in the craziest of ways, the day after she gets her visions. Her best friend calls it her “tomorrow power”. Hazy tries to head off any catastrophes at the pass, but she always manages to make the wrong move, causing chaos instead of preventing it. If she can find her focus, maybe she can use her “tomorrow power” to save the day when she’s needed most!

The Tomorrow Power is the first in a new intermediate chapter book series about a girl who finds herself with a touch of precognition, with humorous results. Most of the fun comes from Hazel trying to figure out where the vision will take place, and trying to prevent it, while trying to function like a normal kid. There are black and while illustrations throughout, outrageous situations, and a likable group of characters. Pair with the Heidi Heckelbeck series by Wanda Coven for some fun intermediate magical reading.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

Ella and Owen: Dragon sibling adventures

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! DOOM! (Ella and Owen #1), by Jaden Kent, (March 2017, little bee books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1499803938

Recommended for ages 6-9

The first book in a fun intermediate series, dragon siblings Ella and Owen have two very different personalities. In their first adventure, bookish Owen is perfectly happy to be home in bed with a book, nursing a cold. More adventurous Ella has different plans: cave exploring! She lures Owen by promising him that there’s a chance to get ogre toenails for his collection. They explore some caves, tangle with an ogre and an evil vegetable wizard, and quite possibly, find a cure for Owen’s cold.

Kids in my library are warming up to this series. If you have Dragonbreath fans, introduce them to Ella and Owen. It’s silly, boogery fun, with black and white illustrations throughout. the second book in the series, Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster, is already available; the third (Knights vs Dragons) is out in May, and the fourth (Evil Pumpkin Pie Fight) is out in July.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Sleeping Beauty, reimagined: Spindle Fire

Spindle Fire (Spindle Fire #1), by Lexa Hillyer, (Apr. 2017, HarperTeen), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062440877

Recommended for ages 14+

This Sleeping Beauty reimagining gives us parallel narratives of two sisters: Aurora and Isabella, the princess and her bastard sister, and Belcoeur and Malfleur, fairies whose longstanding feud may bring down the kingdom. It starts like the familiar tale of Sleeping Beauty, with a twist: in this world, fairies may bestow gifts upon you, but it’s a tithe – ain’t nothing for free. Aurora’s parents, the king and queen, give up Aurora’s sense of touch and ability to speak in order to receive her gifts. Malfleur, like the fabulous Maleficent, storms in and puts the spinning needle curse on Aurora, but this time around, a fairy offers to mitigate the curse not out of the goodness and kindness of her heart, but for another tithe: sight. The queen offers up Isabella – called Isbe – bastard daughter of the king, as tithe. So we’ve got one sister who can’t speak or feel, another who can’t see, but they communicate with a language all their own.

There is a lot of story here: there’s turmoil in the kingdom; Isbe runs off while the Aurora falls victim to the spindle. Malfleur is getting an army ready to march and take over the kingdom as Isbe tries to wake her sister; Aurora wakes up in an enchanted world, meeting a woodsman that she eventually falls in love with. There are moments where Spindle Fire is really good storytelling, but there are moments where there’s almost too many threads; too much going on to get the proper gist of the story. I liked the interactions between Aurora and Isbe, and I really loved reading the backstory between the two faerie queens: more of that, please! The ending leaves readers with no question: there will be a sequel (and GoodReads has this listed as Book One).

If you have reimagined fairy tale readers, this is a good add; romance readers will enjoy the chemistry between each of the sisters and their paramours.