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

CLARA THORN

THE WITCH THAT WAS FOUND

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

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 387

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2022

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A disappointing delivery on a potentially gripping second volume.

THE BALLAD OF NEVER AFTER

From the Once Upon a Broken Heart series , Vol. 2

Evangeline faces new dangers in her quest for happiness in this follow-up to 2021’s Once Upon a Broken Heart.

As Evangeline Fox seeks a cure for her poisoned husband, Prince Apollo, the enticing and infuriating Fate Jacks reappears, offering to save Apollo if she unlocks the Valory Arch. Remembering the long list of ills brought upon her by the Fate, Evangeline refuses. When the new heir arrives and Apollo wakes with a new curse and glowing red eyes, she is forced to delve into the mysteries of the Valors and find the arch’s four missing magical stones whose powers are luck, truth, mirth, and youth. The inclusion of expanded Valor lore alongside the preexisting blend of fairy-tale and paranormal creatures is intriguing and fits the overarching theme of storytelling as history. The ongoing use of emotions as a scale for displaying and determining one’s humanity, especially by Fates, is equally interesting. Unfortunately, the impact of Evangeline’s often amusing narration and numerous surprising plot twists is diluted by the meandering pacing, convoluted sensory descriptions, and close focus on Evangeline’s fluctuating attraction toward her potential love interests. Despite the positive emphasis on hope and happily-ever-afters, Evangeline’s romantic relationship with Jacks borders on manipulative and toxic. Evangeline reads White; side characters are fantasy diverse.

A disappointing delivery on a potentially gripping second volume. (map) (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-26842-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula.

HOCUS POCUS AND THE ALL-NEW SEQUEL

In honor of its 25th anniversary, a Disney Halloween horror/comedy film gets a sequel to go with its original novelization.

Three Salem witches hanged in 1693 for stealing a child’s life force are revived in 1993 when 16-year-old new kid Max completes a spell by lighting a magical candle (which has to be kindled by a virgin to work). Max and dazzling, popular classmate Allison have to keep said witches at bay until dawn to save all of the local children from a similar fate. Fast-forward to 2018: Poppy, daughter of Max and Allison, inadvertently works a spell that sends her parents and an aunt to hell in exchange for the gleeful witches. With help from her best friend, Travis, and classmate Isabella, on whom she has a major crush, Poppy has only hours to keep the weird sisters from working more evil. The witches, each daffier than the last, supply most of the comedy as well as plenty of menace but end up back in the infernal regions. There’s also a talking cat, a talking dog, a gaggle of costumed heroines, and an oblique reference to a certain beloved Halloween movie. Traditional Disney wholesomeness is spiced, not soured, by occasional innuendo and a big twist in the sequel. Poppy and her family are white, while Travis and Isabella are both African-American.

A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-02003-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Freeform/Disney

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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