A refreshing change of pace for unicorn devotees a bit weary of the sugary, mild-mannered sort.

HORN SLAYER

From the Pacey Packer, Unicorn Tracker series , Vol. 2

A unicorn’s horn continues to be a bone of contention as Pacey Packer returns to the magical realm of Rundalyn on a rescue mission.

Hoping to restore the children from the Human Realm who had been turned to stone by evil unicorn Arkane—and chasing after an overstimulated dog she’s supposed to be minding—Pacey hurries over a rainbow bridge back to the land of the unicorns for a whirl of chases, captures, sudden reverses, and ad hoc schemes with a strong tendency to go wrong or, in the end, just barely right enough. And, as if Arkane, who will stop at nothing to get his broken horn back, isn’t threat enough, it seems that the horn itself, which can bring the stone children back at a touch, also turns to the bad anyone who even holds it for more than a few moments. Fortunately Pacey has allies, notably Slasher, a surly unicorn plushy, and its former owner, Carlos de la Cruz, to help out. Unfortunately the horn ultimately falls into the hands of…well, that’s a tale for the next episode. Nonstop action, expressive artwork, and witty asides give this strong reader appeal. Except for Carlos and some other human figures in the purple duotone comic art, who are tinted a pale mauve, the cast presents White. Phillipps includes a mini–drawing lesson at the end.

A refreshing change of pace for unicorn devotees a bit weary of the sugary, mild-mannered sort. (Graphic fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984850-57-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.

THE MYSTERIOUS MESSENGER

Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Despite missteps, this satisfying follow-up will leave readers hoping for more magical adventures with lovable Jax and...

THE DRAGON THIEF

From the Dragons in a Bag series , Vol. 2

Jaxon and his friends deal with the fallout from the theft of one of the baby dragons in his charge.

As this sequel to Dragons in a Bag (2018) opens, Kavita, the titular dragon thief, introduces elderly Aunty to stolen baby dragon Mo. Thankfully, Aunty knows someone in Queens who can help return Mo to the realm of magic. Meanwhile, and in alternating first-person chapters, Jax is trying to find Kavi and Mo, as Mo’s siblings have grown ill as a result of the separation, as has Ma, Jax’s magical mentor and grandmother figure. Jax again teams up with his best friend and Kavi’s older brother, Vik. A third is added to their crew with “huge” Kenny, “the biggest kid in [their] class.” (Unfortunately, much is made of Kenny’s size, which feels gratuitous and unkind.) Eventually the trio finds Kavi, Aunty, and Mo, who’ve been abducted by a magical con artist. All’s well that ends well when Sis, the powerful guardian of the magic realm, shows up, but readers may wonder why the narrative decides to grapple with her choice not to intervene in injustice in our world. Her argument that human-caused problems are for humans to solve feels undeveloped, especially in the face of a massive injustice like the trans-Atlantic slave trade (mentioned during the climax and at no other point). Jax is black; Vik, Kavi, and Aunty are Indian American (though Aunty has African ancestry as well); and Kenny is white. The rest of the cast is diverse as well.

Despite missteps, this satisfying follow-up will leave readers hoping for more magical adventures with lovable Jax and company. (Urban fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-7049-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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