A familiar-feeling protagonist delves into a new life and a new world of magic in this middle-grade series opener by wife-husband duo.
Stephen and his father, both white, move to New York City after his grandmother passes away and his dad is called to take over her job as the “Culinary Alchemist and head chef at the Hotel New Harmonia.” And—surprise!—the New Harmonia is a hotel for monsters and other magical folk (here called “supernormals”). On top of this, Stephen quickly learns that he is, in fact, half fae (thanks to the mother he never met), and the fae court wants him back. Luckily, kid human hotel residents Ivan La Doyt, who is white, and Sofia Gutierrez, a Latina with brown skin in the cover art, act as Ron and Hermione–like friends. When someone steals the hotel’s recipe book—necessary for Stephen’s dad to cook to the tastes of the supernormals and particularly vital for the dragon-in-residence’s upcoming birthday party—and Stephen is blamed, the trio takes matters into their own hands to solve the mystery. Sporadic black-and-white illustrations are friendly and accessible but add little, and the plot-driven third-person narration makes it difficult to feel invested in the characters.
While it may be a brave new world for Stephen, this is well-worn territory for middle-grade fantasy. Here’s hoping the second outing provides something fresh. (Fantasy/mystery. 8-12)