SPELLFALL

More an idea person than a storyteller, Roberts fails to do justice to a promising premise and cast in this tale of magic and parallel worlds. A bit of litter with an eye-catching shimmer ensnares young Natalie in the schemes of Hawk, a cruel “spellmage” planning to invade the enchanted realm of Earthaven from which he has been exiled, and to infect the huge, intelligent “soultrees” there with a vaguely defined biochemical poison. Roberts trots in a fine array of unicorns, spells, and quarrelsome mages, but she shows no great regard for logical consistency, whether it be a character using a crude word one time for no good reason or layers of complicated rules of magic that require repeated readings to comprehend. With the help of several new allies, including her punk stepbrother and a telepathic white wolf with a Scots accent, Natalie battles the evil mage in a series of ineptly staged confrontations (an army of hundreds that is so close that Natalie can see a “glint of triumph” in the eyes of its rear rank, is driven back by a dozen archers, for instance) that foil Hawk in a way that closes his gate to Earthhaven but leaves one for sequels wide open. The main characters (except for Hawk, who is entirely villainous) do show signs of complexity, but that adds only dashes of flavor to this bland fantasy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-29653-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

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. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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THE BURNING BRIDGE

From the Ranger's Apprentice series , Vol. 2

More absorbing, straight-arrow adventures set in the medieval, alternate world kingdom of Araluen and featuring the three apprentices introduced in The Ruins of Gorlan (2005). As the brutish wargals of Morgorath, Lord of Rain and Night, gather for an invasion, deft young Will and his strapping friend Horace discover that Morgorath has planned a complex feint that, unless scotched, will spell doom for the armies of Araluen. The third apprentice, diplomat-in-training Alyss, is relegated to a subplot in this outing, but is sure to play larger roles in future episodes. Flanagan explains more than he needs to but propels the plot forward at a heady clip, stirring in live-wire characters who are still learning the finer points of their assigned professions but prove equal to each challenge they face. He also adds to the company a young fugitive who is far more than the lady’s maid she claims to be, and closes with the requisite battle, a breathtaking single combat—and a dismaying lead-in to the next episode. It all adds up to a winning formula that should prove out to a long, steady run for this above average series. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-399-24455-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2006

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