Tag: fantasy

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke (InfoSoup)

Released September 6, 2016.

Jack wants to spend his summer sleeping in or even with a job of his own. Instead, he is stuck watching his mute younger sister for the summer while his mother takes a second job to pay bills. Then one day at a flea market, Maddy does speak and tells Jack to trade his mother’s car for a box of unusual seeds. Jack does and soon his summer has turned into something very different. They create a garden at home and the seeds turn out to be very wild and even magical. There are onions that can walk, squash that bite, others that chase them down. Huge snails climb the house and one night a green dragon appears. Soon Jack has a choice to make, destroy the garden and its evil magic or risk them all.

According to the author note, this book was in the works for ten years. It’s a brilliant riff on the Jack in the Beanstalk classic. Fans of Zita the Spacegirl will recognize the character who sells Jack the seeds, which is a lovely little moment. Hatke keeps the pace wildly active with readers not knowing at all what is going to appear in the garden next. There is plenty of action and a willingness to just spend time exploring the magic garden and what it holds. Those pages are a delight.

The characters are nicely done as well with Maddy being the one who doesn’t speak but is also integral to all of the decisions being made. Then there is Lilly, the neighbor girl who knows how to wield a sword and even has access to other weapons and armor that will become crucial in the story. I greatly appreciate having a homeschooled girl character who is the one who knows how to battle and knows how to get along with others. It is these critical choices by the author that makes the book work so well. Maddy too is an autistic child who may not speak but has deep connections to the garden and knows exactly what she wants and often knows better than her brother.

Get this in the hands of Zita fans for sure and also those enjoying the battles in Hilo. There is so much to love here! Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from First Second and Edelweiss.

 

The King of Kazoo by Norm Feuti

The King of Kazoo by Norm Feuti

The King of Kazoo by Norm Feuti

When there is an explosion on Mount Kazoo someone must investigate. So King Cornelius who is quite vain and rather scattered and his magic-wielding daughter, Bing, set off with the royal inventor Torq to see what has happened. They take Torq’s latest invention the “gonkless carriage” to get there. As they discover a deserted village at the top of the mountain, the three realize that something much bigger than a natural phenomenon is going on. As they solve the mystery of the explosion, it will take all of their scientific and magic know-how to battle a villainous wizard who is risking the future of the entire kingdom.

This graphic novel has a zany appeal. It is filled with lots of action, plenty of one-liner jokes and three very appealing main characters. From the clueless king with his pride on full display to the two plucky companions, they all have lots of personality to move the story forward. The tension between magic and science also adds energy to the storyline of the book, creating a book where both wizard fans and science fans will find happiness.

The art casts all of the characters as rabbits with their ears high alongside hats and crowns. The art has a cartoon style with subtle coloring that makes the entire world rich with detail. The art and story work well together with the dialogue moving the story along nicely. Pacing is also done well with a rip-roaring and wild pace that will appeal to young readers.

Science, magic and mystery all in one graphic novel! Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan (InfoSoup)

The first in a series, this teen novel is a breathtaking blend of magic, witchcraft, mythology, and Victorian England. Julia is spying on the wealthy people she is pretending to work for as a maid. She is really working with the group of thieves and con artists that she was raised by in the squalid world of the Twist. Julia is an ideal spy because she has the ability to step between worlds and disappear. This well-paying job though has her spying on people who protect those who have magic from a society that drowns witches, including Julia’s own mother who was killed years ago. As the mysteries around Julia grow,  her own life is in danger and she must decide what side she is on and who she is going to become.

The world building in this book is exemplary, truly capturing a twisted version of England filled with forbidden witchcraft, people with extraordinary powers, black market deals, and a lovely touch of steampunk as well. Add in mysteries that have people being murdered on the streets who are clearly being hunted and yet bear no connection to one another, and you have a world ripe with fear for our young magic user. As the mystery is solved, more arrive so that the richness of the world continues to grow as the novel concludes.

Throughout the novel, characters turn out to be far deeper than one might expect. Readers will identify a wolf man as a character far earlier than Julia does, but his character does not end there. Aristocrats and lowly old women alike turn out to be amazing creatures. Steampunk touches herald both heroes and villains. Among this cast of characters, there is Julia who herself is incredible, not just for her powers but for her strength, her ability to be detestable at times, and her determination not to be what one expects her to be.

This is a thrilling and impressive novel that bends genres and will delight fantasy fans. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (InfoSoup)

Maya was born with a terrible horoscope, one that dooms her to marry death, so no man will marry her. So Maya has been focused on her education, since she knows she will never marry. She is detested in the kingdom’s harem and spends much of her time up in the rafters where she can listen in on her father’s throne room. That is how she hears that he plans to have her married off to save the kingdom, despite her horoscope. As Maya becomes a political pawn, her father asks her for the ultimate sacrifice to give her life for peace in her kingdom. Just as Maya is about to sacrifice herself however, war arrives at the kingdom and she is dazzled by a young man she has never met before. Soon her life becomes filled with options she has never considered and magic she never knew was more than tales.

Chokshi makes this book so much more than what it sounds like above. She first creates a world filled with restrictions for women, who are seen only as sexual beings or as collateral to be used for leverage. It is a world where women fight behind the scenes for power, where spite and anger lurk constantly. It is a world of immense wealth and plenty and yet no freedom. Then, and this is what makes this book exceptional, Chokshi turns it all on its head. Readers and the main character move away from those strictures of society and are plopped into a world with its own rules. It is a world of pure power, immense magic and yet rules too.

Against those two diverse worlds, Maya is shown to be a teenager of real distinction. She manages to gain an education where it should not have been a priority. She makes a dire choice and then discovers lust and potentially love. But her path is not straight at all, it moves from princess to queen to something else entirely, something dark and thrilling. It is in that third life where she discovers real power and real love.

This daring and lush novel is filled with excellent world building and one strong teen protagonist who has to save the world. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

 

Daughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner

Daughters of Ruin by KD Castner

Daughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner (InfoSoup)

Four princesses have all lived together as sisters since they were small children. But they are far from being sisters, each heir to their own throne. After a war ravaged all of their kingdoms, the victor brought the daughters of his enemies together in peace to forge a new truce. Ten years later, the girls still live together but the peace between them is strained and fraying. There is Rhea, distrusted by the other princesses because her father is the king. Cadis is the beauty and the strongest fighter but there is some question about whether her democratic sea-faring society even lets her be royalty. Iren is the quiet and meek one, concentrating on long letters home to her mother. Finally there is Suki, the youngest of them and most volatile. When the peace of the palace is breached, the princesses have to choose alliances and take up arms.

Castner has created a very strong debut novel. She has not just one strong young woman but four, each of them different from the others. Castner gives them each a unique perspective and voice and yet also keeps them from becoming stereotypical in any way. These are all princesses of war, teens who have been raised to kill and damage, to defend their kingdoms and to win. While some of them are closer than others to being true sisters and friends, others are almost enemies. The dynamics of a four teenagers living closely together and isolated is intriguing and Castner captures the subtleties of it as well as the broader issues.

Castner focuses mostly on the girls themselves and the world comes into focus as the girls leave the palace and venture outside it. Because so much of the book is political intrigue, it makes for a book that truly is from the perspective of the main characters where what they are touched by is the thing that the reader knows most about. In this way, Castner also avoids lengthy exposition about the world made up by the kingdoms. There is just enough detail for it all to make sense and work and nothing more.

Strong female protagonists who wield weapons with panache combine with politics and plenty of twists and turns to create a debut worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

 

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke (InfoSoup)

Goblin lives very happily in the quiet of his rat-infested dungeon that he shares with his best friend, Skeleton. He spends the days feeding the rats, eating boots for breakfast, and playing games with the treasure. Then one day, a group of adventurers plundered the dungeon. Goblin hid but Skeleton was taken away along with everything else in the dungeon. So Goblin headed out to rescue his friend. But everywhere that Goblin went, people refused to help him and chased him away. Even once Goblin finds Skeleton, he has to find a way to escape the hordes of people and elves chasing him. Perhaps someone does like a goblin after all?

Hatke, the author of the Zita the Spacegirl series, has created another winning picture book. He uses lovely tropes from Dungeons and Dragons and turns them on their head. Here it is Goblin who is the hero and the adventurers who are the bad guys. I love the idea of these creatures having quiet and happy lives before the adventurers come and ruin it all. It’s a clever twist that makes the book enchanting to read aloud, aided by the brisk pace and clear writing.

As always, Hatke’s illustrations are exceptional. I particularly enjoy the adventurer group with their huge swords, glowing staffs and flowing locks of hair. Against them, the little goblin manages to steal your heart, thanks in large part to his diminutive size and big heart.

A perfect bedtime story for your little goblin. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from digital galley received from First Second and Netgalley.

 

Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell

Withering by Sea by Judith Rossell

Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell (InfoSoup)

Stella lives with her three Aunts in a majestic hotel along the coast. Her Aunts are miserable and mean, demanding that Stella be quiet and dutiful. Stella though would rather read the dilapidated atlas that she discovered only partially burnt in the garbage pile behind the hotel. That is why she is in the quiet conservatory and witnesses something being hidden in one of the planters. The knowledge is just one part of the mystery that is about to unfold in the hotel. It is a mystery that Stella finds herself caught up in, taking her away from the hotel and her dull Aunts and into a world of magic and new friends and enemies that even the atlas could not fully prepare her for.

This Australian import is an entirely captivating read. It has an engaging old-fashioned feel about it, particularly with the Aunts and their disapproval of anything childlike or fun. The structure of Stella’s life shouts of Victorian expectations and then the story opens into riotous action, bewildering dark magic, and daring adventures. The quiet of that early part of the book serves to make the adventures even more thrilling due to the contrast.

Rossell uses setting to great effect in this novel, creating a series of discrete worlds where Stella explores and lives. First is the hotel itself, filled with staff and the Aunts and its own secrets. As Stella walks the hallways, Rossell describes them so completely that one is walking alongside the character. Then there is the pier along with its theater that Stella longs to visit and then gets to deeply explore. Finally, there an ancient castle that has such a dramatic setting that plays a role in the entire tale.

A strong female protagonist, deeply lovely settings and intelligent escapes mix with magic in this remarkable story. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.