An engrossing, well-written, and original story; readers will be eager for the next installment.

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DANIEL SCRATCH

A STORY OF WITCHKIND

A teenage boy learns how to wield a powerful magical force in this fantasy novel, the first in Jones’ YA series.

Since he was 10, after his parents’ deaths, Daniel Scratch has lived alone in the once-grand old family house, looked after by brownie servants with occasional attention from his great-great-grandmother, who “declined to leave the house simply because she’d died.” Now, on Daniel’s 13th birthday, Grandmother summons him to her attic abode, where she informs the boy that he will be tested and take his place among other witchkind. He passes, but it turns out that he’s no ordinary witch. If he were, he’d attend a witchkind school for his education, but Daniel’s special abilities mean he must be apprenticed for personal instruction. The boy travels to a remote rock-bound islet and the Tower of Endings, where he meets Kirmin, an ebony-skinned woman of uncertain age to whom he gives his true name, Daniel Drake Teisejas. (The book seems to assume a White default since only Kirmin’s skin color is described.) His new mentor begins teaching Daniel about the history, philosophy, and practice of witchkind in eight Lessons over five years. He learns, for example, of the six Axes of Power, which correspond to the world’s wild energies, such as the sea, fire, and earth, and the seven Forms each axis possesses (Communication, Travel, Mind, Defense, Attack, Essence, and Calling). The Sixth Axis—Daniel’s—connects with “the power of Endings and Conclusions.” Unlike the other Axes, the Sixth Axis has only one adherent at a time. Between lessons, Daniel practices runes and spells while exploring the tower with its books, maps, and other amenities. By the end of his training, Daniel must use his powers to face a potentially world-destroying crisis that could break down the Veil between humans and witchkind.

Jones has written several SF novels; this is his first work of fantasy. This story may bear some resemblance to other novels about young people trained in magic powers. But Jones has created something new, compelling, beautifully written, and somewhat reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). Daniel’s powers are well balanced by the loneliness of his isolated tower and his great responsibilities (an adherent of the Sixth Axis must serve as a judge for witchkind). Daniel’s appeal steadily increases thanks to his intelligence, thoughtfulness, and self-direction, as when he gives himself an exercise routine, growing stronger physically as well as magically. Though the novel includes a great deal of lore, the author handles its exposition gracefully, introducing new information naturally. Runes, a chief component in working magic, are also well integrated; their forms aren’t just arbitrary symbols, as with the communication rune that resembles an ear. Another nice touch is using Lithuanian for the language of witchkind—communicationis šnabždesys, for example—which to English speakers sounds and looks appropriately exotic.

An engrossing, well-written, and original story; readers will be eager for the next installment.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-953645-00-5

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A rush of emotion and suspense.

THE FIRST TO DIE AT THE END

Crowds gather across the United States for the launch of Death-Cast, a company that promises to change the world by predicting the deaths of everyone who subscribes in this prequel to They Both Die at the End (2017).

Orion Pagan, an aspiring author with a heart condition, hopes his phone won’t ring at midnight, but he knows Death-Cast’s call is coming soon. Unlike Orion, Valentino Prince, a model on the verge of his national debut, has no reason to anticipate Death-Cast’s call and isn’t sure if he believes the company’s claims. By coincidence or fate, their lives collide at a party in Times Square, and a single, historic phone call alters the courses of their futures. This heart-pounding story follows the final day of the first Decker, or person who is going to die, and the national chaos of Death-Cast’s premiere. Silvera crafts a web of intricately interconnected character perspectives and conflicts around Orion and Valentino. Apart from Valentino and his twin sister, who are presumed White, most of the characters are Latine, including White-passing Orion, whose family is Puerto Rican. The story confronts heavy topics like grief, abuse, and religious faith with complexity and care. Despite the presumed inevitability of a fatal end to the central romance between Orion and Valentino, Silvera subverts the trope of punishing gay characters with violent tragedy. Familiarity with the original book provides additional context and depth but isn’t essential to understanding the plot.

A rush of emotion and suspense. (Speculative fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-324080-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.

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SCYTHE

From the Arc of a Scythe series , Vol. 1

Two teens train to be society-sanctioned killers in an otherwise immortal world.

On post-mortal Earth, humans live long (if not particularly passionate) lives without fear of disease, aging, or accidents. Operating independently of the governing AI (called the Thunderhead since it evolved from the cloud), scythes rely on 10 commandments, quotas, and their own moral codes to glean the population. After challenging Hon. Scythe Faraday, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova reluctantly become his apprentices. Subjected to killcraft training, exposed to numerous executions, and discouraged from becoming allies or lovers, the two find themselves engaged in a fatal competition but equally determined to fight corruption and cruelty. The vivid and often violent action unfolds slowly, anchored in complex worldbuilding and propelled by political machinations and existential musings. Scythes’ journal entries accompany Rowan’s and Citra’s dual and dueling narratives, revealing both personal struggles and societal problems. The futuristic post–2042 MidMerican world is both dystopia and utopia, free of fear, unexpected death, and blatant racism—multiracial main characters discuss their diverse ethnic percentages rather than purity—but also lacking creativity, emotion, and purpose. Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions.

A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7242-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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