This middle volume doesn’t really set up the (nearly) explosive climax to come but is replete with chases and escapes.

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THE DARK FOREST

From the Shakespeare Plot series , Vol. 2

Young actors/spies find themselves on a new mission when the death of Queen Elizabeth sparks a Catholic plot to assassinate King James as historical characters from William Shakespeare to Francis Bacon trot into and out of view.

In one plotline, said Catholic conspirators work to recruit amnesiac archer Richard Fletcher to their cause, while in another, Richard’s thespian sister, Alice (disguised as “Adam” and believing since the previous episode that her brother is dead), is involved in a scheme of spymaster Robert Cecil’s to trick an imprisoned priest into revealing his allies. Ultimately the conspiracy is exposed—but not before events bring Richard, Alice, her friend Tom, royal political pawn Arbella Stuart, and Shakespeare himself (hard at work on Othello) together as captives who then escape in a nighttime rumpus through the Forest of Arden. Though light on period detail and also on explicit violence, the tale does move along smartly to a happy ending (for Cecil and King James anyway) and a joyful reunion for Alice and Richard. Woolf gives the all-white cast’s female characters at least minor roles in effecting their rescues, an arguably anachronistic touch, and depicts the aforementioned priest as a rousingly scary, vicious brute, which is totally in keeping with Protestant attitudes of the times. While American audiences will probably not feel the historical tensions between early-17th-century Protestants and Catholics as keenly as the book’s original English audience might, the book is nevertheless a fast-moving adventure.

This middle volume doesn’t really set up the (nearly) explosive climax to come but is replete with chases and escapes. (Historical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-912006-95-3

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Salariya

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns.

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY AND THE RIDDLE OF AGES

From the Mysterious Benedict Society series , Vol. 4

When deadly minions of archvillain Ledroptha Curtain escape from prison, the talented young protégés of his twin brother, Nicholas Benedict, reunite for a new round of desperate ploys and ingenious trickery.

Stewart sets the reunion of cerebral Reynie Muldoon Perumal, hypercapable Kate Wetherall, shy scientific genius George “Sticky” Washington, and spectacularly sullen telepath Constance Contraire a few years after the previous episode, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (2009). Providing relief from the quartet’s continual internecine squabbling and self-analysis, he trucks in Tai Li, a grubby, precociously verbal 5-year-old orphan who also happens to be telepathic. (Just to even the playing field a bit, the bad guys get a telepath too.) Series fans will know to be patient in wading through all the angst, arguments, and flurries of significant nose-tapping (occasionally in unison), for when the main action does at long last get under way—the five don’t even set out from Mr. Benedict’s mansion together until more than halfway through—the Society returns to Nomansan Island (get it?), the site of their first mission, for chases, narrow squeaks, hastily revised stratagems, and heroic exploits that culminate in a characteristically byzantine whirl of climactic twists, triumphs, and revelations. Except for brown-skinned George and olive-complected, presumably Asian-descended Tai, the central cast defaults to white; Reynie’s adoptive mother is South Asian.

Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-45264-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Megan Tingley/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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Inventive worldbuilding, but way too much is left unexplained and unresolved.

ESCAPE FROM ZOBADAK

Four children find their way into another world through a hidden doorway in a mysterious old piece of furniture.

Gallagher elaborates on this oddly familiar premise by (eventually) explaining that the right sort of wooden joinery will link furniture from any place or time. Billy, his little sister Sophie and their friends Chris and Maggie discover a seemingly endless maze of hallways lined with doors and drawers full of strange artifacts by crawling into a nightstand belonging to missing Uncle Gary. The labyrinth is actually a “cabinet of curiosities” that brilliant carpenters of many generations have been building to store treasures like Excalibur and the Thunderbird Photograph. Before this is explained, however, the four children have spent many chapters wandering the halls at random—and also being menaced in the outside world by animated wooden puppets from the fictional “Zobadak Wood Company,” who are after Uncle Gary and the nightstand at the command of a shadowy figure named Brope. Along with introducing scads of enigmatic elements from flocks of aggressive crows to a mischievous fairy, the author injects artificial melodrama into the tale by having Billy and Sophie rescue their pointlessly kidnapped parents. He clumsily tries for comic relief by casting the puppets as inept Abbott-and-Costello types and with no perceptible rationale closes by having all of the adults stonewall or downplay everything that has happened.

Inventive worldbuilding, but way too much is left unexplained and unresolved. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: July 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-934133-32-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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