A servant boy and his friends want to break free of a life of bowing and scraping—but at what cost?
Boot boy Jiyong, stable girl Sally, and governess Rozario dream of living lives that matter, and trying to rescue Sally’s brother, Chibo, from a deadly tapestry-weaving job seems like a good place to start. So when the Summer Queen invites Ji’s “almost” friend, the orphaned noble Brace, to pursue a magical challenge to become the heir to the throne, Ji willingly faces goblins and death for the opportunity to accompany Brace to the city. Brace, alas, may not be the friend whom Ji hopes him to be nor the sufficiently developed character that readers require. The action progresses in fairly predictable ways but will nonetheless appease the voracious appetites of unblinking middle-grade readers. As with Ross’ Fog Diver (2015), this band of misfits features appealing, memorable, and apparently racially diverse characters; one character’s casual complication of gender and identity is particularly fresh and funny. Still, critical readers—and those who value nuance and fact—will be troubled by Ross’ slapdash appropriation of cultures in what is otherwise original fantasy. It’s perhaps an attempt to diversify the genre, but it falls short, inexplicably importing real cultural references (terra-cotta warriors, haciendas, kimchi buns, churros) into a fantasy world without context or rationale.
Regrettably, misses the mark. (Fantasy. 8-12)