Entertaining and substantial, satisfying and subversive—either way, it’s a treat.



From the Spellcaster series , Vol. 3

To save the people of Captive’s Sound, Nadia bound herself as apprentice to 400-year-old witch Elizabeth Pike; now Nadia’s friends seek to free her and to stop Elizabeth’s master, the One Beneath, from entering the world.

Nadia is acutely aware of how Elizabeth’s dark magic has begun to change her. Mateo—contrary to the conventional wisdom that all witches are female—has powers of his own, but ensnared by the Cabot Curse, he’s not only unable to help, his efforts bind him to evil, too. Demon Asa remains free to work against Elizabeth, but he must obey their infernal master and, if ordered, destroy Nadia, Mateo or even Verlaine, the girl he loves. The trilogy’s swift-moving conclusion features gripping suspense and clever plotting. Conflict is the engine of fiction, and that gives evil an inherent advantage over goodness—in maintaining readers’ interest at least. By reversing their traditional attributes, Gray redresses this imbalance. While the teens struggle against jealousy, anger and fear, Elizabeth offers the One Beneath unswerving, selfless and single-minded devotion. The teens’ work ethic is puny compared to hers. Free of any doubts or influences from outside that could deter her, serenely ignoring her derelict house and body now falling apart, Elizabeth’s a genuinely horrifying creation.

Entertaining and substantial, satisfying and subversive—either way, it’s a treat. (Paranormal suspense. 13-17)

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-196124-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots.


From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 1

The daughter of a murdered queen plots to take back what is hers.

With her country seized and her mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, murdered by invaders when she was only 6 years old, Theodosia has been a prisoner for 10 years, stripped of her crown, her people enslaved. Theo (renamed Thora by her captors) is at the mercy of the Kaiser—the fearsome ruler of the Kalovaxians—enduring his malicious whims in order to survive. But when the Kaiser forces Theo to execute her own father, survival is no longer good enough, and she finally takes up the mantle of queen to lead her people’s rise to resistance in a land saturated in elemental magic. Debut author Sebastian has invigorated some well-worn fantasy tropes (a displaced heir, an underground rebellion, and a love triangle that muddies the distinctions between enemies and allies), delivering a narrative that crackles with political intrigue, powerful and debilitating magic, and the violent mechanisms of colonization even as it leaves sequel-primed gaps. Some details—like Theo’s crisis of identity and Hamletian indecision—work well to submerge readers in a turbulent and enthralling plot; others, like racialized descriptions that fall short of actual representation (Atreans are dark-haired and olive-skinned, Kalovaxians are blond and pale-skinned) and the use of magic-induced madness for narrative shock and awe feel lazy and distracting among more nuanced elements.

“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots. (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6706-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Bound to be popular.


From the Ember in the Ashes series , Vol. 1

A suddenly trendy trope—conflict and romance between members of conquering and enslaved races—enlivened by fantasy elements loosely drawn from Arabic tradition (another trend!).

In an original, well-constructed fantasy world (barring some lazy naming), the Scholars have lived under Martial rule for 500 years, downtrodden and in many cases enslaved. Scholar Laia has spent a lifetime hiding her connection to the Resistance—her parents were its leaders—but when her grandparents are killed and her brother’s captured by Masks, the eerie, silver-faced elite soldiers of the Martial Empire, Laia must go undercover as a slave to the terrifying Commandant of Blackcliff Military Academy, where Martials are trained for battle. Meanwhile, Elias, the Commandant’s not-at-all-beloved son, wants to run away from Blackcliff, until he is named an Aspirant for the throne by the mysterious red-eyed Augurs. Predictably, action, intrigue, bloodshed and some pounding pulses follow; there’s betrayal and a potential love triangle or two as well. Sometimes-lackluster prose and a slight overreliance on certain kinds of sexual violence as a threat only slightly diminish the appeal created by familiar (but not predictable) characters and a truly engaging if not fully fleshed-out fantasy world.

Bound to be popular. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59514-803-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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