Esse•Jenna and the Soulless Viper

Debut author Dorsey creates a world that’s equal parts fairy-tale dream and anime action drama. Quinton Jackson is an average teenager, worried about bullies, his family, and a class field trip to the museum. Then a strange series of events involving his new digital camera, lawn mowing, and a backyard pond transports him to another world entirely. Unfortunately for Esse•Jenna, a Dream Deity, Quinton falls through his pond and into her life. Almost immediately, demonic creatures called mares attack them. In the course of the battle, Quinton ends up with Esse•Jenna’s magical scepter, Dragonvulge, and, after defeating the mares, they both quickly discover that Quinton is magically bonded to the weapon and can’t let it go. Esse•Jenna’s problems don’t end there, however: Boa-Bogg, the Soulless Viper, seeks the four Ghostly Image scepters, of which Dragonvulge is only one. If the demon finds the scepters before Quinton and Esse•Jenna do, nothing will stand between it and the conquest of both their worlds. The battle sequences splash liberally across the pages, replete with anime-like moves, weapons, and flowery names. Quirky characters abound as well, including a talking dog named Kalmekrazie; Batina, Queen of the Bat Mares; and Esse•Jenna’s annoying but sometimes-helpful sisters. Unfortunately, their oddness often gets in the way of them feeling real and genuine, and this is compounded by the teens’ often awkward phraseology. It’s less of an issue with the villains, though, who are generally far more cartoonish; they keep the plot humming along at a good pace, and the varied threats and combat keep things engaging. Although the narrative noticeably drags whenever Quinton or Esse•Jenna pauses to bemoan the injustice of his or her life, there’s still something universal in their teenage martyrdom. Light, anime-inspired fun that can be awkward at times but still provides action-packed battle scenes and colorful villains.

Pub Date: July 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4848-0288-5

Page Count: 364

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2015

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.


Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.


From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020


Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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