An animated, indelible cast drives this entertaining, otherworldly tale.

A teenager with a newfound ability finds a magical world that’s threatened in this YA fantasy.

Clara Thorn constantly feels that she doesn’t belong. As she and her parents move a lot, the 13-year-old girl has been changing schools without making any friends. Las Vegas is no different; copious bullies zero in on her, mocking her for such things as her family being “poor.” That’s why she’s surprised to see a trio of bullies on her side of Vegas—the less affluent residential neighborhoods. Clara follows them and stumbles into Underhill, a place outside the ordinary world where magical people live. The teen is later shocked to learn that her birthparents, who wielded magic, were forced to abandon her as a baby. As she’s now at the age when her own talents will surface, Clara starts to see magic in the form of floating, multicolored numbers and symbols. But things could go wrong if she doesn’t learn to control her powers, so she attends Liginbaum’s School for Witches in Underhill. Clara gains some friends, but even a magical world unfortunately has bullies. It’s likewise not immune to dangers, as someone seems to be targeting Borders, the hidden passageways between Underhill and the ordinary world. Outside of Underhill, paladins, or witch hunters, chase down magical people like Clara. But she and her friends suspect an individual right there in Underhill is working with paladins in a Borders scheme that may be harmful for everyone, including “Ordinaries” such as Clara’s beloved, adoptive parents.

Jones’ series opener brims with wonderful characters. Both sets of Clara’s parents are especially memorable. Her softhearted adoptive mother and father have raised her as their own daughter. Clara’s birthparents, paladin-battling “counter-hunters” who vanished 12 years ago, have become legendary in Underhill. While a school for magical youngsters has become a popular subgenre all its own, this novel unfolds as an engrossing mystery. For example, Clara and her pals, to unearth information on their suspect, scour a library for specifics on Underhill’s complex history. At the same time, Underhill teems with magicians who create fire or teleport as well as numerous otherworldly creatures, from wolflike beasts to Oilliphéist (lake dragons) and velvety direbunnies with pink noses and two rows of long, sharp fangs. Clara’s ability, meanwhile, is even greater than it initially seemed; she can “tweak” someone else’s magic and proves capable of much more as the story progresses. Her synesthesialike power showcases the author’s radiant prose: “Clara realized that the room—the very air—was filled with glowing equations—not the usual soft reds, blues, and greens she was used to seeing, but angry, bright primary colors muddied with brown and black.” Jones caps off this story with a special recipe for fizzycider, a fruity Underhill beverage, written for Ordinaries (no magic required). By the end, a few sequel-teasing mysteries linger, most notably an enigmatic, apparently formidable villain only mentioned in passing.

An animated, indelible cast drives this entertaining, otherworldly tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2022


Page Count: 387

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2022


From the Skyward series , Vol. 4

A grand finale, presented with a touch light enough to buoy all the self-actualization. Also: giant space worms!

Hotshot pilot Spensa Nightshade completes her apotheosis in this series closer, as human rebels and their alien allies mount a climactic assault on the galactic empire.

Having progressed from eating rats to being a cytonic superwarrior, Spensa is bonded by ties of loyalty and lust to former Skyward Flight leader, now Defiant Defense Force admiral, Jorgen—and also to a traumatized, planet-killing, interdimensional delver named Chet. Spensa would be well on her way to full-blown pacifism if the Superiority’s war of extermination against humans were not ramping up to a newly active phase. Nothing for it but a massive space battle, complete with dogfights, huge explosions, feints, betrayals, and tragic sacrifices…not to mention a swarm of ravenous, vacuum-dwelling vastworms eager to chow down on both sides. Though slowed by Spensa’s and others’ wrestling with conflicting impulses and weighing moral imperatives, the plot features more than enough large- and small-scale action set pieces to please space-opera fans. Better yet, the deliciously expansive cast includes not only humans and AIs but a broad array of aliens and semi-aliens from blue-skinned humanoids and a furry, haiku-reciting, fox-gerbil samurai with a (wait for it) laser sword to sentient crystals and empathic slugs. “The more different types of people we got into the flight, the stronger it would be,” Spensa reflects, and indeed, it’s collective action that proves decisive in the end.

A grand finale, presented with a touch light enough to buoy all the self-actualization. Also: giant space worms! (Science fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593309711

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2023


Ideal for readers seeking perspectives on war, with a heavy dash of romance and touch of fantasy.

A war between gods plays havoc with mortals and their everyday lives.

In a time of typewriters and steam engines, Iris Winnow awaits word from her older brother, who has enlisted on the side of Enva the Skyward goddess. Alcohol abuse led to her mother’s losing her job, and Iris has dropped out of school and found work utilizing her writing skills at the Oath Gazette. Hiding the stress of her home issues behind a brave face, Iris competes for valuable assignments that may one day earn her the coveted columnist position. Her rival for the job is handsome and wealthy Roman Kitt, whose prose entrances her so much she avoids reading his articles. At home, she writes cathartic letters to her brother, never posting them but instead placing them in her wardrobe, where they vanish overnight. One day Iris receives a reply, which, along with other events, pushes her to make dramatic life decisions. Magic plays a quiet role in this story, and readers may for a time forget there is anything supernatural going on. This is more of a wartime tale of broken families, inspired youths, and higher powers using people as pawns. It flirts with clichéd tropes but also takes some startling turns. Main characters are assumed White; same-sex marriages and gender equality at the warfront appear to be the norm in this world.

Ideal for readers seeking perspectives on war, with a heavy dash of romance and touch of fantasy. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: April 4, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-85743-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2023

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