ODDITY

A determinedly offbeat historical American fantasy.

Brown’s first entry into children’s literature preserves his peculiar brand of whimsy in an episodic, often perilous adventure enlivened by charming woodcut-style illustrations. In an alternate 19th century, the Louisiana Purchase failed, leading to war, and now three powers—France, the 11 Unified States, and the Sehanna Confederation—exist in uneasy balance. Thirteen-year-old Clover’s obsession with oddities, strange things that are somehow more—the Wineglass that never runs dry, the Ice Hook that creates its own ice—seems harmless, but oddities killed her mother and attract the bandits who kill her Russian father and precipitate the plot. What follows is a journey through a world with elements both familiar (slavery, rotten politicians, and eager warmongers) and strange. Along the way to the climax, Clover makes friends and enemies and grows up quickly. The vivid sense of place, even pacing, and memorable characterization—including multiple strong girl characters—are real strengths. However, the alternate history narrative may be better appreciated by readers familiar with actual events and therefore able to place the fantasy-world Native nations (inspired by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy) and the history of European colonization in context. The advanced vocabulary makes this a good choice for sophisticated readers. Main characters are White; Clover’s neighbor and mother figure is a formerly enslaved Black woman. Clover’s village of Salamander Lake is a place where, in contrast to other locations in this world, people of different ethnicities mingle as equals.

Intriguing. (map, catalog of oddities) (Historical fantasy. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0851-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Ultimately more than a little full of itself, but well-stocked with big themes, inventively spun fairy-tale tropes, and...

THE LAST EVER AFTER

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 3

Good has won every fairy-tale contest with Evil for centuries, but a dark sorcerer’s scheme to turn the tables comes to fruition in this ponderous closer.

Broadening conflict swirls around frenemies Agatha and Sophie as the latter joins rejuvenated School Master Rafal, who has dispatched an army of villains from Capt. Hook to various evil stepmothers to take stabs (literally) at changing the ends of their stories. Meanwhile, amid a general slaughter of dwarves and billy goats, Agatha and her rigid but educable true love, Tedros, flee for protection to the League of Thirteen. This turns out to be a company of geriatric versions of characters, from Hansel and Gretel (in wheelchairs) to fat and shrewish Cinderella, led by an enigmatic Merlin. As the tale moves slowly toward climactic battles and choices, Chainani further lightens the load by stuffing it with memes ranging from a magic ring that must be destroyed and a “maleficent” gown for Sophie to this oddly familiar line: “Of all the tales in all the kingdoms in all the Woods, you had to walk into mine.” Rafal’s plan turns out to be an attempt to prove that love can be twisted into an instrument of Evil. Though the proposition eventually founders on the twin rocks of true friendship and family ties, talk of “balance” in the aftermath at least promises to give Evil a fighting chance in future fairy tales. Bruno’s polished vignettes at each chapter’s head and elsewhere add sophisticated visual notes.

Ultimately more than a little full of itself, but well-stocked with big themes, inventively spun fairy-tale tropes, and flashes of hilarity. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-210495-3

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2015

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