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SWORD AND VERSE

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

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. 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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POWERLESS

From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

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IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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