A heartwarming and innocent upper-middle-grade fantasy.

THE BLAMELESS

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

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when...

ASHES TO ASHEVILLE

Two sisters make an unauthorized expedition to their former hometown and in the process bring together the two parts of their divided family.

Dooley packs plenty of emotion into this eventful road trip, which takes place over the course of less than 24 hours. Twelve-year-old Ophelia, nicknamed Fella, and her 16-year-old sister, Zoey Grace, aka Zany, are the daughters of a lesbian couple, Shannon and Lacy, who could not legally marry. The two white girls squabble and share memories as they travel from West Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina, where Zany is determined to scatter Mama Lacy’s ashes in accordance with her wishes. The year is 2004, before the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and the girls have been separated by hostile, antediluvian custodial laws. Fella’s present-tense narration paints pictures not just of the difficulties they face on the trip (a snowstorm, car trouble, and an unlikely thief among them), but also of their lives before Mama Lacy’s illness and of the ways that things have changed since then. Breathless and engaging, Fella’s distinctive voice is convincingly childlike. The conversations she has with her sister, as well as her insights about their relationship, likewise ring true. While the girls face serious issues, amusing details and the caring adults in their lives keep the tone relatively light.

Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when Fella’s family figures out how to come together in a new way . (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-16504-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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