From the Vega Jane series , Vol. 2

Not a stand-alone episode, but definitely a pleaser for creature-feature fans.

Baldacci piles on the monsters as he sends Vega Jane and her hunky, clever sidekick Delph through the magical Quag in this follow-up to The Finisher (2014).

Escaping the walled town of Wormwood in hopes of finding the “truth” that lies beyond, the two teens befriend or, more often, flee or slaughter a laundry list of creatures: garms, amarocs, lycans, venomous jabbits, snake-haired alectos, green-blooded Soul Takers, dreads, grubbs, hyperbores, and numerous other residents of the broad, weirdly mutable wilderness. For variety, they are also twice captured—once by a mad subterranean king and then by the Quag’s 800-year-old Keeper—and Vega has to die to get across a certain river guarded by a skeletal boatman. These all turn out to be only temporary setbacks, however. In blatant bids to add appeal, Baldacci supplements the teeming cast of ravening boojums with a new companion who may be an ally, a rival for Delph, or both, plus familiar elements like a ring that makes its wearer invisible and Harry Potter–esque spells, a talking book that delivers only infuriatingly vague advice, and frequent Briticisms (“Wotcha, Vega Jane”). The flights and fights are all set pieces without much sense of suspense or danger, and there are so many of them that even bloodthirsty readers might echo Vega Jane’s own exhausted “Let’s just finish this.”

Not a stand-alone episode, but definitely a pleaser for creature-feature fans. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-83194-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015


Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

An exhilarating summer marked by death, gore and fire sparks deep thoughts in a small-town lad not uncoincidentally named “Jack Gantos.”

The gore is all Jack’s, which to his continuing embarrassment “would spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames” whenever anything exciting or upsetting happens. And that would be on every other page, seemingly, as even though Jack’s feuding parents unite to ground him for the summer after several mishaps, he does get out. He mixes with the undertaker’s daughter, a band of Hell’s Angels out to exact fiery revenge for a member flattened in town by a truck and, especially, with arthritic neighbor Miss Volker, for whom he furnishes the “hired hands” that transcribe what becomes a series of impassioned obituaries for the local paper as elderly town residents suddenly begin passing on in rapid succession. Eventually the unusual body count draws the—justified, as it turns out—attention of the police. Ultimately, the obits and the many Landmark Books that Jack reads (this is 1962) in his hours of confinement all combine in his head to broaden his perspective about both history in general and the slow decline his own town is experiencing.

Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-37993-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011


From the Vega Jane series , Vol. 4

Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last.

The rebellion against an evil archmage and his bowler-topped minions wends its way to a climax.

Dispatching five baddies on the first two pages alone, wand-waving villain-exterminator Vega Jane gathers a motley army of fellow magicals, ghosts, and muggles—sorry, “Wugmorts”—for a final assault on Necro and his natty Maladons. As Necro repeatedly proves to be both smarter and more powerful than Vega Jane, things generally go badly for the rebels, who end up losing their hidden refuge, many of their best fighters, and even the final battle. Baldacci is plainly up on his ancient Greek theatrical conventions, however; just as all hope is lost, a divinity literally descends from the ceiling to referee a winner-take-all duel, and thanks to an earlier ritual that (she and readers learn) gives her a do-over if she’s killed (a second deus ex machina!), Vega Jane comes away with a win…not to mention an engagement ring to go with the magic one that makes her invisible and a new dog, just like the one that died heroically. Measuring up to the plot’s low bar, the narrative too reads like low-grade fanfic, being laden with references to past events, characters who only supposedly died, and such lines as “a spurt of blood shot out from my forehead,” “they started falling at a rapid number,” and “[h]is statement struck me on a number of levels.”

Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last. (glossary) (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-26393-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2019

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