An accessible yet carefully composed YA novel with a steampunk setting.

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BEAST HEART

From the Steambound Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A girl with an amazing hand and a boy with a deadly condition collide in this YA steampunk novel by Richardson (Wild Horse, 2019), the first in a trilogy.

How’s this for steampunk: Gabby Lenton’s hand is literally made of steam due to a bizarre disorder that manifested when she was 9. Now she has to wear a clockwork glove to cover it. Gabby isn’t thrilled about the development. “I want to be normal, like everyone else,” she complains to her mother, who tells her in response, “One day…you’ll understand how special it is to be…well, special.” When her mother is murdered by a mysterious creature that breaks into their home, Gabby seeks help from Detective Shaw, who promises to help her catch the beast. As they begin to search the city’s shadowy precincts, Kemple is an orphan living in the house of an abusive foster father. He’s used to beatings and chores—enough that he’s willing to take the fall for the new girl, Josephyn, when she breaks the rules. Josephyn suggests that they escape, but once they’re out in the city, Kemple is scratched by a cat. The scratch becomes infected, and Kemple begins to get sick…begins, in fact, to change. As Gabby (rechristened Brielle) and Kemple independently drift through the city’s underworld—one seeking a cure, the other revenge—they discover that monsters are more numerous and more complex than either could have imagined. Richardson’s prose possesses the gritty urgency of urban fantasy, particularly when describing the novel’s imaginative scenery: “Pedestrians jostle against one another, as if the sidewalks have somehow become valuable property. Even the airships seem to have lost their gentle, whalelike sway—now the sky looks like a wild sea, with every dirigible behaving like a predator on the hunt.” The novel takes its time getting started, but the main characters—particularly Gabby—are likable and well drawn. Despite the steampunk setting, the story has a rather classic, almost mythic structure, which will entertain those who give themselves over to the novel’s somewhat leisurely pace. Two sequels are planned, and readers will be interested to see where Richardson goes with these two slow-cooked characters and their evocative milieu.

An accessible yet carefully composed YA novel with a steampunk setting.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-946154-35-4

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Meerkat Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

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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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