That death is the only surprise in this routine bildungsroman.

THE QUEEN AND THE NOBODY BOY

From the Tales of Fontania series , Vol. 2

Else gathers a pile of well-seasoned fantasy kindling but fails to light it up in this uninspired sequel to the effervescent The Traveling Restaurant (2012).

An infant in the opener but now 12, Queen Sibilla of Fontania impulsively disguises herself as a boy and runs away with disaffected odd-jobs boy Hodie. Chaperoned by an unusually helpful squirrel and former pirate/cook Cpl. Murgott, the two land in the subterranean capital of Um’binnia just as its blustering emperor, Prowdd’hon, declares war on Fontania. Meanwhile, the land’s magnificent Dragon-eagles are being captured or dying, and with them will disappear all magic unless certain lost Ties are recovered and used in some unspecified way. Else also tucks in colorful elements, from flying passenger trains and giant poisonous Ocean Toads to bumbling Um’binnian rebels led by a woman (also in male disguise). Despite these small pleasures, her plot is too driven by conveniently overheard conversations and dependably timely distractions or rescues to develop any real suspense. Moreover, the cast is made up of the usual stock suspects, and as a point-of-view character, Hodie makes a cold fish—sullen, inarticulate and only briefly moved by meeting his long-missing (aristocratic, natch) mother or, later, seeing the devoted servant who had raised him as a son murdered before his eyes.

That death is the only surprise in this routine bildungsroman. (endpaper map) (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-8775-7949-3

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Gecko Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

THE CONSPIRACY

From the Plot to Kill Hitler series , Vol. 1

Near the end of World War II, two kids join their parents in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

Max, 12, lives with his parents and his older sister in a Berlin that’s under constant air bombardment. During one such raid, a mortally wounded man stumbles into the white German family’s home and gasps out his last wish: “The Führer must die.” With this nighttime visitation, Max and Gerta discover their parents have been part of a resistance cell, and the siblings want in. They meet a colorful band of upper-class types who seem almost too whimsical to be serious. Despite her charming levity, Prussian aristocrat and cell leader Frau Becker is grimly aware of the stakes. She enlists Max and Gerta as couriers who sneak forged identification papers to Jews in hiding. Max and Gerta are merely (and realistically) cogs in the adults’ plans, but there’s plenty of room for their own heroism. They escape capture, rescue each other when they’re caught out during an air raid, and willingly put themselves repeatedly at risk to catch a spy. The fictional plotters—based on a mix of several real anti-Hitler resistance cells—are portrayed with a genuine humor, giving them the space to feel alive even in such a slim volume.

It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-35902-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat,...

EXILE

From the Keeper of the Lost Cities series , Vol. 2

Full-blown middle-volume-itis leaves this continuation of the tale of a teenage elf who has been genetically modified for so-far undisclosed purposes dead in the water.

As the page count burgeons, significant plot developments slow to a trickle. Thirteen-year-old Sophie manifests yet more magical powers while going head-to-head with hostile members of the Lost Cities Council and her own adoptive elvin father, Grady, over whether the clandestine Black Swan cabal, her apparent creators and (in the previous episode) kidnappers, are allies or enemies. Messenger tries to lighten the tone by dressing Sophie and her classmates at the Hogwarts-ian Foxfire Academy as mastodons for a silly opening ceremony and by having her care for an alicorn—a winged unicorn so magnificent that even its poop sparkles. It’s not enough; two sad memorial services, a trip to a dreary underground prison, a rash of adult characters succumbing to mental breakdowns and a frequently weepy protagonist who is increasingly shunned as “the girl who was taken” give the tale a soggy texture. Also, despite several cryptic clues and a late attack by hooded figures, neither the identity nor the agenda of the Black Swan comes closer to being revealed.

However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat, much less under way. (Fantasy 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4596-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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