Kudos for a fresh take on a fraught topic but not for derailing slavery into a vehicle for romantic angst.

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SWORD AND VERSE

Literacy becomes the key to liberation in a thoughtful debut fantasy.

Tutor-in-training Raisa may be one of the most privileged Arnathim in Quilara, but she is still a slave, like all her people. Unlike them, she has learned to read and write the sacred symbols in order to teach future kings. Her relative freedom would make her an ideal recruit for the Resistance, but she fears being executed like her predecessor; besides, she’s interested only in writing and in pursuing her torrid, forbidden romance with Prince Mati. But when Mati’s throne, their lives, and all Quilara come under threat, she may lose any choice. Raisa’s narration is cleverly interwoven with the myths of the divine origins of writing and the oppressive system it sustains, providing a fascinating spin on a common fantasy plot. Unfortunately, Raisa herself—vacillating, selfish, and shallow—is an unimpressive protagonist, and an attempt to reinscribe racial power dynamics (the Arnathim are white and curly-haired, while their oppressors are olive-skinned with straight, black hair) falls flat. While she condemns the Resistance for their distrust in Mati’s (impotent) promises of reform, the Arnathim suffer mostly offstage, allowing Raisa to wallow over her ill-judged (and inherently abusive) affair. Once the nation collapses into treason, revolt, and armed invasion, the literal deus ex machina (or ex tabula) resolution seems awfully pat for a society scarred by generations of bigotry and exploitation.

Kudos for a fresh take on a fraught topic but not for derailing slavery into a vehicle for romantic angst. (Fantasy. 12-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-232461-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue.

THE BETROTHED

From the Betrothed series , Vol. 1

In an imagined setting evoking medieval England, King Jameson of Coroa pursues Hollis Brite.

The independent teenager makes Jameson laugh, but she lacks the education and demeanor people expect in a queen. Her friend Delia Grace has more knowledge of history and languages but is shunned due to her illegitimate birth. Hollis gets caught up in a whirl of social activity, especially following an Isolten royal visit. There has been bad blood between the two countries, not fully explained here, and when an exiled Isolten family also comes to court, Jameson generously allows them to stay. Hollis relies on the family to teach her about Isolten customs and secretly falls in love with Silas, the oldest son, even though a relationship with him would mean relinquishing Jameson and the throne. When Hollis learns of political machinations that will affect her future in ways that she abhors, she faces a difficult decision. Romance readers will enjoy the usual descriptions of dresses, jewelry, young love, and discreet kisses, although many characters remain cardboard figures. While the violent climax may be upsetting, the book ends on a hopeful note. Themes related to immigration and young women’s taking charge of their lives don’t quite lift this awkwardly written volume above other royal romances. There are prejudicial references to Romani people, and whiteness is situated as the norm.

Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229163-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Busy, busy, busy…with portents of doom.

CHAIN OF GOLD

From the Last Hours series , Vol. 1

Clare’s (Ghosts of the Shadow Market, 2019, etc.) latest is set in the Shadowhunter world in the 20th century’s first decade (with frequent flashbacks to the previous one).

Teenage offspring of the Herondales, Carstairs, Fairchilds, and other angel-descended Nephilim continue their families’ demon-fighting ways amid a round of elegant London balls, soirees, salons, picnics, and romantic intrigues. James Herondale, 17-year-old son of Will and Tessa, finds himself and his “perfectly lethal dimple” hung up between two stunning new arrivals: Cordelia Carstairs, red-haired Persian/British wielder of a fabled magic sword, and Grace Blackthorn, an emotionally damaged but (literally, as the author unsubtly telegraphs) spellbinding friend from childhood. Meanwhile, a sudden outbreak of demonic attacks that leave more and more Shadowhunters felled by a mysterious slow poison plunges James and a cohort of allies into frantic searches for both a cause and an antidote. Ichor-splashed encounters with ravening boojums and even one of hell’s own princes ensue—all leading to final hints of a devastating scheme to destroy the Nephilim in which James himself is slated to play a central role. Characters have a range of skin tones, but ethnic diversity adds no texture to the portrayals; there is a lesbian cousin who wears traditionally male clothing and two young gay men (one tortured, the other less so).

Busy, busy, busy…with portents of doom. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3187-3

Page Count: 624

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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