A story about death that leans toward the light.

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LAYOVERLAND

Coming-of-age can happen even when you’re dead and bitter.

Bea Fox dies in a car accident while crying about a fight with her sister (who is also her best friend), listening to a song she hates, and wearing jeans she doesn’t like. She wakes up in an airplane heading to Layoverland, an in-limbo place for heaven-bound souls with emotional baggage or secrets to clean up before they can depart for the Pearly Gates. Bitter, pessimistic, argumentative Bea is recruited into the Memory Experience Department and can’t move on until she helps a certain number of befuddled souls clear their minds (including a guy who is supercute—and responsible for her death. Awkward). And who knew that orange would be the go-to palette for the in-between afterlife? Bea is a terrific antihero, as if the naysaying comic relief in a teen movie got the spotlight instead of the pretty ingenue. But her acid tongue and eye rolls aren’t two-dimensional or one-note; layers to her pre-Layoverland life are interspersed to give depth. The fantasy and comedy make the narrative buoyant even while bullying, tragic deaths, class struggles, and reproductive rights are faced head-on. Bea and her family are white and working class, and the majority of the cast also seems to be white save for biracial (Mexican/white) love interest Caleb and brown-skinned Layoverland mentor Sadie.

A story about death that leans toward the light. (Fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-3612-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots.

ASH PRINCESS

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 1

The daughter of a murdered queen plots to take back what is hers.

With her country seized and her mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, murdered by invaders when she was only 6 years old, Theodosia has been a prisoner for 10 years, stripped of her crown, her people enslaved. Theo (renamed Thora by her captors) is at the mercy of the Kaiser—the fearsome ruler of the Kalovaxians—enduring his malicious whims in order to survive. But when the Kaiser forces Theo to execute her own father, survival is no longer good enough, and she finally takes up the mantle of queen to lead her people’s rise to resistance in a land saturated in elemental magic. Debut author Sebastian has invigorated some well-worn fantasy tropes (a displaced heir, an underground rebellion, and a love triangle that muddies the distinctions between enemies and allies), delivering a narrative that crackles with political intrigue, powerful and debilitating magic, and the violent mechanisms of colonization even as it leaves sequel-primed gaps. Some details—like Theo’s crisis of identity and Hamletian indecision—work well to submerge readers in a turbulent and enthralling plot; others, like racialized descriptions that fall short of actual representation (Atreans are dark-haired and olive-skinned, Kalovaxians are blond and pale-skinned) and the use of magic-induced madness for narrative shock and awe feel lazy and distracting among more nuanced elements.

“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots. (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6706-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment.

LADY SMOKE

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 2

A rebel queen fans the sparks of revolution.

Picking up immediately after the events of Ash Princess (2018), Sebastian’s expansive sequel finds young Queen Theodosia—her title newly reclaimed—fleeing her country and throne. With her people still enslaved, Theo will need allies and an army to free them, and her aunt, the fierce and manipulative pirate Dragonsbane, insists that the only way to acquire either is if Theo marries—something no queen has ever done in Astrea’s history. Wracked by nightmares, guilt, and fear that she is losing herself (and more), Theo balks but, with few options open to her, grudgingly agrees to meet with suitors at a grand invitational hosted by the king of the opulent Sta’Crivero. Readers looking for further immersion and expansion of Theo’s world will not be disappointed here. The narrative suffers marginally from lengthy details picked up and soon put back down with no real service to plot or character development, but Theo’s first-person narration remains enthralling with emotional immediacy as she learns more and more about her world and the people (and cruelty) within it. Vengeance, political corruption, and mystery are the main drivers, and questions of trauma, empathy, and sacrifice hold the reigns as Theo grapples with emergent magic, inconvenient romances, and the crushing weight of her choices as a leader.

Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment. (maps) (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6710-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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