A focused plot and memorable characters with formidable abilities create an impressive series launch.

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THE HIDDEN LEGACY

DISCOVERY OF OCABA

Beings from a magical world try to protect four children who are destined to save a land tyrannized by an evil elf in this YA fantasy debut.

It’s been seven years since elfin Darius murdered the royal families of the land of Ocaba. Opal and Minerva are just two of the individuals who, back then, helped four children (one from each of the land’s kingdoms) escape: two boys, Koda and Dungan, and two girls, Alill and Thryn. They’re hiding from Darius, now Ocaba’s reigning king, and guarded by miniatures, 2-foot-tall humans who can morph into animals. Residing in another world, one relying on machinery and electronics, none of the youngsters have memories of their homeland or are aware of their dormant powers. But cognizance is on the horizon, like Thryn’s gradual realization that she’s hearing—and responding to—others’ thoughts. Darius, meanwhile, using dark magic to control people in Ocaba, discovers that Opal, once the queen, is still alive, so he can’t truly be king. He’s determined to track down Opal and the children of the prophecy, which proclaims them as Ocaba’s rescuers. The children eventually find their way to Ocaba, but soon one is a captive of the black-hearted elf. Keller’s engrossing tale is chock-full of characters with varying dilemmas (some are a part of Ocaba’s growing rebellion) and vivid back stories (the shocking origin of Darius’ ire). A Christian theme is pronounced but not overwhelming: Darius is a “fallen elf,” while Opal and Minerva take solace in praying to the Creator. Though myriad fantastical elements abound (portals and winged unicorns), Keller’s simple, unadorned prose often deftly inserts pragmatic aspects into the tale: “He awoke again to the snoring of the magical miniature in human form.” The narrative successfully couples familiar problems (Alill swayed by peer pressure to drink and smoke) with otherworldly ones (the girl tempted by a kingdom’s lavish wealth). The first installment of a proposed trilogy, the book ends with a clear setup for a subsequent volume.

A focused plot and memorable characters with formidable abilities create an impressive series launch.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5369-1280-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2017

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Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

MALICE

This YA SF novel features a teen who must halt a virus that will kill two-thirds of humanity.

In Silver Oak, Maryland, Alice Sherman is a high school junior enjoying lunch near her campus basketball court. With her is Archie, her brother, a senior and science prodigy who likes equations more than his fellow students. Alice has been Archie’s one true friend since their mother left six years ago. Alice is about to catch up with Lalana Bunyasarn, her best friend, when a sudden “streak of electricity zaps through” her head. The agony intensifies until a Voice enters Alice’s mind, asking her, “Do you want this pain to stop?” The Voice then instructs her to go up to Bandit Sakda, a classmate playing basketball, and say that she loves him. Bandit is a beautiful Thai boy who’s talented and arrogant. Strangely, the Voice calls her Malice and says not to fall for him because “it’ll only make what you have to do later harder.” Eventually, Alice learns that the Voice belongs to someone from 10 years in the future who needs help saving humanity. A virus will be created by a person Alice knows that will wipe out two-thirds of the world population. Following the Voice’s directions can save everyone—except the person Alice is ordered to kill. Dunn’s (Star-Crossed, 2018, etc.) latest YA adventure offers increasingly tantalizing twists that gleam in succession like nested matryoshka dolls. Alice will charm readers with her quirks, especially her devotion to Chris Hemsworth of Marvel’s Avengers films. Tension builds as characters in the large cast, including crushworthy Zeke Cain and the brilliant Cristela Ruiz, become potential targets for Alice’s mission. Details about Thai culture add a splendid dimension to the narrative; for example, Bandit is pronounced “bun-dit” and means “one who is wise.” While the notion of a high school killer may not sit well with some, the author doesn’t use the device lightly. Her book takes a strong anti-bullying stance, doing so through an entertaining narrative that doesn’t resort to preaching. The author’s heart and craftiness make a sequel welcome.

Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64063-412-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.

A GIFT OF POISON

From the The Kingmakers' War series , Vol. 1

A girl who has been dismissed and distrusted for most of her life must prove herself in this quest novel.

Briand Varryda dresses like a boy and is the unwanted ward of her uncle. Denied education and often even food, she realizes that her only friends are her cousin Bran and, sometimes, the soldier Tibus. Briand can look after herself: She’s good with a knife and light on her feet. But this time, she’s in real trouble. Briand has cleaned out one soldier too many at the card game Dubbok. When Tibus saves her from vengeful pursuers, he has no choice but to then turn her over to Kael, steward of her uncle’s castle—who has a reputation for cruelty and who, with the help of Bran’s loathsome tutor, Nath, is conducting secret experiments involving young noblemen and poisonous snakes. Kael gives her one last chance. Briand tries to go straight; she attempts to do the right thing. But when she intervenes in one of Kael’s experiments, she gets more than she bargained for. By passing a test meant for Bran, Briand becomes a “dragonsayer,” with “the ability to speak to and sometimes control animals of magic, particularly dragons.” From despised guttersnipe, she has now risen to being the kingdom’s last hope against the usurper prince and his deadly Seekers—but that’s no reason for her companions to think any better of her. In this short novel, Ellison (With Tide and Tempest, 2014, etc.) takes fantasy tropes and makes them feel original. The same achievement can be seen in characterization. Briand and all the others are easily recognizable types but still seem unique. Briand, in particular, is somehow not the typical orphan who makes good. This is made possible by the author’s no-nonsense prose and pacing and some astute worldbuilding. The necessary background details (with the exception of some that find their way into speech) are foreshadowed rather than dumped. This allows Briand to forge her own path and for the story to grip and take hold. Although this is the first book in a series, the plot is largely self-contained. Readers will be left with closure but still wanting more.

Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5028-7264-7

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2019

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