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by Jenn Bennett

Pub Date: July 30th, 2024
ISBN: 9781665930345
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A pair of bold girls, a wildcat, and a fugitive prince team up to reclaim a kingdom.

Twelve-year-olds Rosebud and Wilda make it their mission to steal from the army of their kingdom’s tyrannical usurper, Otto the Torch. Their small gang, known as the Blackhearts, is accompanied by Wilda’s “mostly tame” lynx, Wryclaw. Otto’s reign has been marked by the burning of much of the country of Rin and the murder of its citizens, including Rosebud’s father, Sir Herman the Loyal. The girls agree to journey with Prince Timo, who’s fleeing from Otto, into the enchanted Nowhere Wood to find the magical object that will remove the hexed wolf mask from Timo’s head and thwart Otto’s plans to execute Queen Gisela for witchcraft. Nowhere Wood is satisfyingly full of menace and wonder, including a friendly (if slightly dim) giant, a crowd of tiny fairies who capture and plan to deliver the Blackhearts to the vicious Huntsman, a village where the adults have disappeared, a blind clockmaker, a man lost in the mines and subsisting on a fungus called Blue Shroomies, and an irascible albino dragon. Among the sly easter eggs for older readers are mentions of Rik Rolls, dice game cheats named after the bard Rik from Astley Isle. The descriptions of the humans suggest a mostly white cast of characters.

Cleverly crafted and convincingly episodic, with a dose of madcap humor.

(Fantasy. 8-12)