A terrific read for fantasy fans.

A young princess in exile rediscovers a forgotten magic in a charming, surprisingly nuanced middle-grade fantasy.

Thirteen-year-old Noa Marchena, along with her elder brother, Julian, and her little sister, Mite, barely escaped from the overthrow of their family’s rule of the Florean Archipelago. Now they plan to retake Julian’s throne from their mobile island base, filled with invisible cats and guarded by a cake-loving sea serpent. Fortunately, Julian is the most gifted mage alive; unfortunately, that very power leaves him vulnerable to becoming an evil Dark Lord—but not if Noa has anything to say about it. Fawcett transforms a fairly conventional premise into a sheer delight with her witty prose and sharply drawn characters. The loving bonds between the bickering Marchena siblings—melodramatic, morally ambiguous Julian; explosive oddball Mite; and brilliant, practical, bossy Noa—are the driving force of the narrative. Minor characters are almost as memorable, and even the villains have complicated, sympathetic motives. The islands make for an interesting setting, with a population representing a range of skin tones (the Marchenas are olive-skinned), gender equality, and a society accepting of different sexualities. The language-based magic system is carefully thought-out, but the Marchenas’ successes rely as much on diplomacy, clever strategy, and meticulous planning. While this volume comes to a satisfying (if not unrealistically triumphant) conclusion, there is (happily) plenty of room left for potential sequels.

A terrific read for fantasy fans. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-285454-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012


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

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