Mostly for Fforde’s fans, although fantasy readers with a taste for the silly should appreciate the subverted tropes.

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THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER

From the Chronicles of Kazam series , Vol. 1

Finally, the first in Fforde’s fantasy trilogy for young readers, published in the U.K. in 2010, makes it to this side of the pond.

In the Ununited Kingdoms (whose names and political inclinations presumably hold more meaning than their United counterparts), (nearly) 16-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange (think indentured servant with pluck) has taken over running Kazam, one of the last Houses of Enchantment. She shepherds once-powerful wizards through pizza delivery and rewiring homes in Hereford, a kingdom bordering the last Dragonland. When the last dragon’s death is foretold, Jennifer finds herself smack in the center of political maneuvering and foundering in massive tides of greed. Jennifer never comes across as adolescent or real; instead, her knowledge of her world and her even-toned narrative (even of high-intensity scenes) seem downright authorial. Too much of the novel is comprised of comic bits strung together with first-person exposition, and laughs fall flat when they depend on British slang, as with know-it-all William of Anorak. The obvious and clearly broadcast message (“Greed is all powerful; greed conquers all,” tempered by Jennifer’s innate goodness) further impedes the effect of the broad, sometimes ingenious humor. The second volume may fare better as it promises to highlight the aging, odd wizards and world rather than the less-than-sparkling Jennifer.

Mostly for Fforde’s fans, although fantasy readers with a taste for the silly should appreciate the subverted tropes. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-73847-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.

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SCYTHE

From the Arc of a Scythe series , Vol. 1

Two teens train to be society-sanctioned killers in an otherwise immortal world.

On post-mortal Earth, humans live long (if not particularly passionate) lives without fear of disease, aging, or accidents. Operating independently of the governing AI (called the Thunderhead since it evolved from the cloud), scythes rely on 10 commandments, quotas, and their own moral codes to glean the population. After challenging Hon. Scythe Faraday, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova reluctantly become his apprentices. Subjected to killcraft training, exposed to numerous executions, and discouraged from becoming allies or lovers, the two find themselves engaged in a fatal competition but equally determined to fight corruption and cruelty. The vivid and often violent action unfolds slowly, anchored in complex worldbuilding and propelled by political machinations and existential musings. Scythes’ journal entries accompany Rowan’s and Citra’s dual and dueling narratives, revealing both personal struggles and societal problems. The futuristic post–2042 MidMerican world is both dystopia and utopia, free of fear, unexpected death, and blatant racism—multiracial main characters discuss their diverse ethnic percentages rather than purity—but also lacking creativity, emotion, and purpose. Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions.

A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7242-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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