From the Song of the Last Kingdom series , Vol. 1

A complex and fantastic introduction to an epic new world.

Two teens struggle to survive in their conquered homeland.

In the city of Haak’gong, Lan gets by as a songgirl, performing and demeaning herself for the Elantians who colonized her homeland, the Last Kingdom. Lan seeks answers behind the curious scar on her wrist, a mark left by her mother, who died at the hands of an Elantian magician. After she is saved from a life-threatening attack by a boy named Zen, Lan discovers that qi practitioners and heroes of legend still exist and that hidden masters hold the truth behind the meaning of the mysterious mark she carries, a secret that could save—or destroy—the kingdom. The complex history of the Last Kingdom is based on Chinese history and reveals the deep impacts of war, forced assimilation and annihilation of clans into one central Hin identity, and colonization, with its rewriting of culture and history. The Elantians read as fantasy equivalents of White Europeans. The magic system is intriguing, with the Last Kingdom’s focus on balance and the elements juxtaposed with the Elantian’s martial, destructive metal-based magic. The explorations of free will and how strength is used are nuanced and contrast wonderfully within the two lead characters. While some major plot points are predictable and some villains feel one-dimensional, the fast pace and evocative prose are intriguing. Although the romance begins with instant attraction, its slow, realistic progression shows growing trust and support.

A complex and fantastic introduction to an epic new world. (chronology, map) (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-593-48750-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2022


A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024


There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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