THE ESSENCE

From the Pledge series , Vol. 2

This sequel to the successful dystopian fantasy The Pledge (2011) emphasizes fantasy over dystopia.

Charlie defeated the evil Queen Sabara in the previous installment and has become, reluctantly, Queen Charlaina of Ludania. However, Sabara’s titular essence has taken up residence in Charlie, who can’t find a way to rid herself of the spirit of the dead queen. As queen, Charlie has instituted a series of reforms to make all classes equal in her country, provoking predictably unhappy and even violent responses among the former upper classes. At a summit of queens, Sabara resurfaces, looking only for love with her immortal boyfriend Niko, a situation sure to displease Charlie’s heartthrob, Max. Despite that turmoil, frothy fashions dominate the summit. In shifting from dystopian thrills to an airy fantasy, Derting loses her groove. Yes, she includes suspenseful scenes in which Charlie, or rather her guards, battles to escape death, but Charlie herself doesn’t come across as a terribly attractive character, whining rather than getting a grip until the climactic scene. Some nice minor characterizations stand out, such as the old man, Florence and Charlie’s stoic, giant guard, Zafir. Despite the book’s title, the Sabara essence doesn’t offer much danger except to Charlie’s romance, resorting to an evil deed only once.

Disappointing. (Dystopian fantasy. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4559-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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An epic series opener of old-school high fantasy catering to modern audiences.

REALM BREAKER

When the realm is in danger, only a small band of misfits can save Allward.

An in medias res prologue, told from the point of view of the lone squire accompanying the 12 Companions of the Realm, tosses readers into the thick of a quest. Half the Companions are human heroes and half are immortal Elders; they seek to stop a rogue thief and his wizard accomplice from using a magical Spindle to tear a passage between worlds for nefarious ends. A disastrous battle sends squire Andry fleeing with Cortael’s sword so villain Taristan can’t get his hands on it. Grieving Elder Dom requires both a person of Corblood (a descendant of human travelers from another realm) and the Spindleblade Andry protects to stop Taristan from bringing ruin to the realm. Dom seeks Cortael’s secret daughter, Corayne, a bright but sheltered teenager with a pirate mother. At times the narrative tension is undermined by flashbacks that readers already know the conclusions to and by occasional repetition caused by the multiple point-of-view jumps, but there’s a wide variety of action scenes, daring escapes, and betrayals. Many tropes and character types are familiar, but exquisite descriptions and clashing motivations result in a nuanced, sprawling realm with a sense of complicated history. This world is highly diverse in terms of both skin tone and in the refreshing range of roles female characters inhabit.

An epic series opener of old-school high fantasy catering to modern audiences. (map) (Fantasy. 12-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-287262-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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