A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy (9780525518587)
Eva is a princess whose magick is tied to blood and marrow. She’s the first royal with that magick combination since Queen Raina, who massacred thousands of the native populations hundreds of years ago. Because her magick is so rare, Eva hasn’t learned how to use it yet, something that is particularly problematic when you are destined to fight your sister to the death in order to be the next Queen. Eva loves to travel incognito into the city at night to dance and forget her destiny for awhile. But when she is attacked by an assassin, she gets her first taste of her magick really working thanks to the blood she is drenched in. Eva now must find the key to her powers and discovers a legendary Fey warrior who just may have the answers for her. For the first time, she thinks she may just have a chance, but it won’t be easy as those around her become targets for her enemies too.
Joy’s fantasy novel has strong roots in North Africa. She has created a magical fantasy realm filled with several different races with their own powers. Humans are the interlopers, who killed many on their way to both the throne and coming into their own magick powers. There is a strong sense of justice in the novel, where it is clear that the current Queen and Eva’s sister have never questioned what brought them the lives they have. Eva on the other hand has many questions, mostly about the races of the land but also about her own powers and what they say about her as a potential Queen and the bloodshed that may follow.
This novel is at its best during the action sequences where Eva is battling enemies and trying out her new powers on allies. In these scenes, the writing is tight and weaves a clear image of what is happening with breathtaking speed. The romance scenes are well written and an important element in the overall storyline. Joy focuses on characters and action, not lingering overly long on descriptions of the setting, which makes this a fast and intense read.
Full of bloody battles with a female protagonist who kicks ass, this book is a great read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker (9781549303043)
Nova lives with her grandmothers and helps out in their magical bookshop where they serve witches in the community with potion ingredients as well as spell books. One night, she discovers someone from her childhood in the woods, a werewolf named Tam. Tam has been battling a horse demon in the woods. Nova’s grandmothers head into the woods to capture the demon and discover something with far more power than they expected. Something is out to get Tam and merge werewolf magic with the demon. As Nova and Tam try to figure out the key to accessing Tam’s werewolf powers, they steadily fall for one another too. When the villain targeting Tam is revealed it will take everything they have to defeat them.
This graphic novel is an intoxicating mix of fantasy and romance with strong LGBTQ elements. The characters are layered and complex, something that is more difficult to achieve in a graphic novel format. The childhood connection between Tam and Nova gives them a place to build from in their relationship. The romance is lovely and sweet, progressing naturally as the two become closer. Family elements are also vital to the story from the grandmothers to ghost parents who also have opinions about how Nova is being raised.
Tam uses the pronouns they/them/theirs which is great to see in a graphic novel for teens. The grandmothers are a lesbian couple as well. These elements offered in a matter-of-fact way create a harmonious world full of queer love. The book offers this in a way that makes it simply part of the fabric of life, which is very refreshing.
A fantasy romance graphic novel worth falling for. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (9780316418416)
Ryn is the daughter of the gravedigger in her small village next to the forest. When her father didn’t return from the mines, she took over his job. But the forest has always been full of legends and now the dead seem to be returning to life. The bone houses, as Ryn calls them, are scoffed at by the others in the village. When Ryn rescues a young man, Ellis, who grew up in the prince’s castle, she finds a new way to bring some coin to her small family. But the bone houses continue to rise, soon becoming a wave of zombies so large no one in the village can deny their existence. Ryn and Ellis set off to find the mythical cauldron that had caused the bone houses to rise. It means heading deep into the dangerous forest and through the mine where Ryn’s father perished. Along the way, they learn about the wonders of the curse, find the pieces of Ellis’s mysterious past, and discover how it and they fit together.
I adored the premise of this book, which is a medieval setting full of mythical creatures who have all vanished that is facing a zombie apocalypse. The weaving of poverty, cruel landlords, stubborn goats, beloved family and newfound friends together is intoxicating. Add in the horrors of the risen dead, and it’s an amazing amalgamation that really works well.
A large part of its success is Ryn herself. She is a determined protagonist who refuses to leave her family’s home behind even with bone houses everywhere. She is fearless as she battles them, gentle with the dead, and full of contradictions. She is opinionated, funny and entirely fabulous even when she is muddy from head to toe. Ellis is also a great character. He has a weak arm which he treats with natural painkillers. It is an issue on their journey but doesn’t ever get used as an excuse for him not being successful as they travel. He is studious, introspective and forever surprising Ryn with what he says. The two are a great pair, and who doesn’t love a woman who can wield both a shovel and an axe with such skill.
A great zombie book with plenty of brains about it. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin (9780062878021)
Lou lives in the city as a thief, stealing what she needs to survive, feasting when possible on sweets, and dressing herself in costumes from the theater attic where she lives. Because her life depends on it, she tries to never use her witch magic, lest her mother discover where she is. Reid is a witchhunter, raised from an orphaned baby into one of the leaders of the Church Chasseurs. He not only hunts witches but kills them, usually ultimately burning them at the stake if they live that long. When Lou tries to escape Reid by publicly shaming him, they end up being forced to marry one another. As the war between the witches and the church escalates, Reid and Lou find themselves at the center of it just as they discover their increasing feelings for one another.
If you are looking for one amazing teen fantasy novel, you have found it here. Mahurin builds a great world for her characters, one with extensive history that impacts the action in the novel in an understandable and fascinating way. As more of the details of the history are revealed, the cunning nature of the witches’ plans become more clears as well as the motivations of the church. It’s a book that untangles itself in front of the reader and yet leaves plenty of questions to be answered in a future volume.
The book mixes romance and fantasy. It has one of the hottest sex scenes I have read in a teen novel too where details are not skimped on and the woman takes the lead. As with that scene, Lou is not ever one to shrink away from saying what she thinks and needs. She is prickly and jaded, falling for Reid despite all of the guards she has in place. Reid could have simply been the bemused soldier in all of this, but Mahurin has made him Lou’s equal in the book, so that readers understand the damage done by both the witches and the church to society and individuals.
An amazing and gripping fantasy romance. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner (9781534431454)
Moth has always loved everything to do with magic and witches. So when Halloween comes, she dresses up as a witch. That does nothing but encourage some school bullies who tease her in the hall in front of the new kid in town. But something strange happens and Moth’s hands start to glow. It turns out that Moth comes from a family of witches, something her mother had never shared with her. Now it all makes sense why Moth has felt so different from everyone else and struggled to make friends. As Moth learns more about her family and the secret separate magic land her grandmother helped create and still lives in, Moth’s powers grow. She meets a talking cat, makes her first real friend, and then discovers that while witches are real so are those who hunt them!
Steinkellner’s debut graphic novel for youth is a delightful mix of diversity and magic. While comparisons can be made with other teen witches, this book stands entirely on its own. Part of that distinction comes from the unique world that the town’s witch elders created for safety. It is a world of floating islands, crystalline colors and flowing robes. It contrasts dynamically with the world of middle school. Moth is the one who brings both worlds together as her magic begins to take form.
The characters in this graphic novel really make the book special. Moth moves far beyond middle-school misfit and is a friendly, funny protagonist with a talking cat who is brave and conflicted. Her mother too is complicated in all the best ways.
A great middle-grade graphic novel that is full of magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.
The Sunburst Award is given “for excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.” They just announced this year’s winners in both their adult and young adult categories. Here is the winner as well as the books that were in the longlist for the young adult category:
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Antilia: Sword and Song by Kate Story
Black Chuck by Regan McDonell
Children of Daedala by Caighlan Smith
Feeder by Patrick Weekes
North to Benjamin by Alan Cumyn
Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer
The Ruinous Sweep by Tim Wynne-Jones
Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe
Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell
Super! by Jennifer Chen
A World Below by Wesley King
Worldshaper by Edward Willett
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062747297)
Lalani lives on the island of Sanlagita during a long drought where all of the plants are dying and water is growing scarcer by the day. The residents of her island pray every day for mercy from the large mountain they live near. There are tales of another mountain across the sea that is on an abundant island where all of your needs are met. So the island sends out ships of their strongest men trying to journey to this other island and mountain. Nothing returns from these journeys but broken pieces of the ships. Lalani is a regular girl inspired by the tale of another island girl who died trying to make her own journey. As Lalani finds herself caught up with a magical exile, she wishes for rain and the unending rain that results brings disaster with it. Shunned by others on the island, Lalani makes the choice to take her own journey across the sea.
Inspired by Filipino folklore, this is an amazing novel by a Newbery-award winning author. The barren and limited world that Lalani lives in is filled with anger, bullying and still love and friendship. The entire society feels tense and on edge, one step from coming to blows. It makes what Lalani finds on her journey all the more incredible. Kelly has created a world of magical and unusual creatures that spring to life. Several of them are given special treatment where the reader is asked to imagine themselves being that creature which is a marvelous invitation to change perspective.
As always, Kelly’s writing is so skillful that one doesn’t even realize it. Her books read so easily and well, this time carrying readers into a fantastical world filled with creatures from dreams and nightmares. Lalani is a great protagonist. She is brave, audacious with just the right amount of regular person mixed in too.
A glorious fantasy from a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (9780525647072)
Jam lives in Lucille, a place cleansed of monsters by the angels who still live among them. There are no monsters in Lucille any more. But just as Jam is learning about the original angels, who looked more like monsters than humans, she accidentally releases a creature from her mother’s painting. The creature is Pet, who has crossed dimensions to hunt a monster. Pet reveals that the monster is living in Jam’s best friend, Redemption’s house. Now Jam must figure out how to enlist Redemption’s help without accusing his family of doing something terrible and harboring a monster. Or perhaps Pet is the real monster as he hunts without remorse? Jam must learn the truth and then get others to believe her.
Wow. What a book! The voice here is what hits you first, unique and strong, it speaks in a Nigerian-laced rhythm that creates its own magic immediately. Add in the power of Jam herself, a black, trans girl who often chooses not to speak aloud but with sign language. Then you have the amazement of Pet, the nightmare creature who hunts for monsters but also explains the importance of not hiding from the truth. Surround it all with families who love and care and are wonderfully different from one another.
Emezi leads readers through this wonder of a book, filled with LGBTQIA+ moments that are so normal they become something very special. They insist that you understand what is meant by a monster and by an angel, that one can be disguised as another, that monsters are normal people, but must not be tolerated. It’s a book about abuse, about standing up, about angels and demons, and about humans.
An incredible middle-grade fantasy full of power, monsters and beauty. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Make Me a World.
The Feather by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (9781760124212)
A giant white glowing feather floats down into a dystopian world where the sky is always gray. Two children find it and take it to the village, amazed by how light it is to carry. The children know it doesn’t belong inside. The adults in the village though want to contain its beauty, but before they can, the feather changes. It becomes dirty and dull, absorbing the weight of their ideas and thoughts. The villagers disperse, angry at being tricked. The children carry the heavy feather back with them, caring for it through the night until in the morning it is brilliant once more. The children decide to set it free, and as the feather floats skyward, it leaves behind a promise of blue skies.
Wild’s story is deep and wondrous, rather like the feather itself. The gigantic nature of the feather, its ability to remind people of blue skies and fresh breezes, makes it magical. And yet, it can be squandered by needing to own that magic, to contain it. The dulling of the feather is a profound answer to that selfishness. The children’s own willingness to care for the feather cleanses it once more. It’s a lovely analogy about selflessness, sharing joy, and finding hope together.
Blackwood’s illustrations are glorious. She creates a feather that is both light and weighty, radiant and white. It lights the world around it, then absorbs the darkness into itself in a way that is heartbreaking. Her vision of the gray world is haunting and aching for a brightening, a possibility.
A picture book that will spark discussion about hope, change and making a difference in your world as a child. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.