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THE DEFIANT

From the Valiant series , Vol. 2

Girl-power fights make up for less-successful elements.

Princess-turned-gladiatrix Fallon must defend Ludus Achillea from treachery in Livingston’s ancient Rome.

Although she pines for her sweetheart, decurion Cai, and hosting the sullen gladiators of rival Ludas Amazona for mock combat games to entertain elites is far from glorious, things are looking up for Fallon. Her older sister, the Lanista of Ludus Achillea, is about to receive the deed to the school, which means all of its gladiators will be free, fighting by choice instead of because they’re forced. But villainous tribune Pontius Aquila and his secret society, the Sons of Dis (a death cult that eats the hearts of fallen gladiators to gain their strength), have other plans. Instead of Ludus Amazona, Fallon and her fellows find themselves facing actual Amazons. To counter Aquila, the gladiators must navigate treacherous schemes and concoct plans of their own. Of the whiplash-inducing quantity of betrayals, very few will come as a surprise. While all of Fallon’s plans eventually pay off, they’re frequently laid out in blocks of exposition that disrupt the story’s rhythm. The story’s strongest in fight scenes, with techniques well-matched to the characters and situations. Racial descriptors come in the form of side characters’ origins—besides Romans and Greeks, some, such as Queen Cleopatra, come from Aegypt; some are “desert herders; others are Germanic or Celtic, like Fallon.

Girl-power fights make up for less-successful elements. (Historical fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-448-49472-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS

From the Girl of Fire and Thorns series , Vol. 1

Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel,...

Adventure drags our heroine all over the map of fantasyland while giving her the opportunity to use her smarts.

Elisa—Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza of Orovalle—has been chosen for Service since the day she was born, when a beam of holy light put a Godstone in her navel. She's a devout reader of holy books and is well-versed in the military strategy text Belleza Guerra, but she has been kept in ignorance of world affairs. With no warning, this fat, self-loathing princess is married off to a distant king and is embroiled in political and spiritual intrigue. War is coming, and perhaps only Elisa's Godstone—and knowledge from the Belleza Guerra—can save them. Elisa uses her untried strategic knowledge to always-good effect. With a character so smart that she doesn't have much to learn, body size is stereotypically substituted for character development. Elisa’s "mountainous" body shrivels away when she spends a month on forced march eating rat, and thus she is a better person. Still, it's wonderfully refreshing to see a heroine using her brain to win a war rather than strapping on a sword and charging into battle.

Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel, reminiscent of Naomi Kritzer's Fires of the Faithful (2002), keeps this entry fresh. (Fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202648-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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SALT TO THE SEA

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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