McMann builds her newly minted mage’s self-confidence, firms up some emotional hookups and pitches her burgeoning cast into a series of rescues in this middle volume.
The story opens with a crisis carried over from the previous episode and closes with a sudden attack by parties unknown. In between, Alex Stowe solves a riddle left by founding wizard Marcus Today to restore the Unwanteds’ magic school of Artimé, then leads an expedition of magical squirrelicorns, origami dragons and other constructs, along with the giant, flying, stone cheetah Simber, to Warbler Island to rescue imprisoned fellow students Samheed and Lani. Meanwhile, Alex is also bumbling his way through a growing attachment to Sky (who makes his heart “swish”) while his evil Wanted twin, Aaron, is shakily usurping the office of high priest in neighboring Quill. Readers who aren’t fresh on the content of the two preceding volumes will struggle to keep all the characters distinct, but the author chucks in comical byplay and even vomit jokes to keep things from getting too serious, and she breaks the tale into dozens of short chapters to goose up the action.
Projected to run through four more volumes, the storyline doesn’t advance much here—but the quick pace, unresolved issues and Hogwarts-ian setting will keep the audience Wanting more. (Fantasy. 10-14)