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A heartwarming and innocent upper-middle-grade fantasy.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

A young princess adopted into an extended family of magic wielders discovers her own special powers in Christison’s debut novel for children ages 10 to 14.

On the night the castle at Aldestone is attacked, 13-year-old Princess Briana, known as “Brie,” sees her parents and brother murdered. Brie flees but is hunted through the streets. She escapes thanks to three mysterious rescuers: Derek the archer; Kove the knife-thrower; and big, gentle Flinton, whose sword appears out of nowhere whenever it is needed. These three are “the Blameless,” or heroes who can “control the weather, heal the sick, and end wars.” Each has committed a great selfless act and, in consequence, has manifested magical abilities, as has Brie. By putting the kingdom’s interests first, the princess develops powers of her own. Derek, Kove, and Flinton become her honorary uncles. Vowing to protect and train her, they take Brie to Mount Elrad, the secret stronghold of the Blameless, where she joins Flinton’s household and becomes best friends with his sister Cassie and—begrudgingly—Kove’s brother, Taeo. Despite the murders that caused her to flee her castle, Brie finds happiness at Mount Elrad. But her life is soon upended again. The ruthless usurper Vaylec has found a way to take control of individual Blameless. By harnessing their powers, he snatches Brie and returns her to the castle at Aldestone. What cruelties does he have planned? Will Brie ever be reunited with her new family? Christison takes the tropes of epic fantasy and strips them of their angst, crafting a feel-good page-turner. Brie is a likable protagonist surrounded by good-natured, slightly larger-than-life companions. Flinton is especially striking with his bearlike size and caring nature, but even Vaylec—the villain—has a personality and depth beyond the genre’s typical evilness for evil’s sake. Christison refuses to manufacture conflict, focusing instead on a central premise and the characters that underpin it. Though the plot is simple and the book is long, Brie’s story plays out with an endearing breeziness. As is often the case with series, the ending of this first novel comes as an interruption rather than a denouement. Nonetheless, there’s a great deal here to ensnare young readers.

A heartwarming and innocent upper-middle-grade fantasy.

Pub Date: July 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951565-82-4

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Belle Isle Books

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020


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

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

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. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013


A captivating book situated in present-day discourse around the refugee crisis, featuring two boys who stand by their high...

Two parallel stories, one of a Syrian boy from Aleppo fleeing war, and another of a white American boy, son of a NATO contractor, dealing with the challenges of growing up, intersect at a house in Brussels.

Ahmed lost his father while crossing the Mediterranean. Alone and broke in Europe, he takes things into his own hands to get to safety but ends up having to hide in the basement of a residential house. After months of hiding, he is discovered by Max, a boy of similar age and parallel high integrity and courage, who is experiencing his own set of troubles learning a new language, moving to a new country, and being teased at school. In an unexpected turn of events, the two boys and their new friends Farah, a Muslim Belgian girl, and Oscar, a white Belgian boy, successfully scheme for Ahmed to go to school while he remains in hiding the rest of the time. What is at stake for Ahmed is immense, and so is the risk to everyone involved. Marsh invites art and history to motivate her protagonists, drawing parallels to gentiles who protected Jews fleeing Nazi terror and citing present-day political news. This well-crafted and suspenseful novel touches on the topics of refugees and immigrant integration, terrorism, Islam, Islamophobia, and the Syrian war with sensitivity and grace.

A captivating book situated in present-day discourse around the refugee crisis, featuring two boys who stand by their high values in the face of grave risk and succeed in drawing goodwill from others. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-30757-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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