Lacking in all but length, this adventure never makes it off the ground.

THE ALMOST KING

Seventeen-year-old Aleks leaves home to join the Siberene military in hopes of finding adventure but instead finds abuse, corruption, and despair.

Punishing physical training, meager rations, and a brutal beating at the hands of an officer lead to the white teen’s decision to desert. He escapes, traveling north to Syvana, where he finds a home, work, and romance. Unfortunately, the military quickly tracks him, dogging his steps at every turn. However, for unexplained reasons they do not take him into custody. Aleks has a dream: to fly an airship through the Stormlands. When the net finally begins to draw closed, he escapes to the skies. A chaotic plot, a bland setting, and mediocre writing are only a few of the problems in this companion to Take Back the Skies (2014). Aleks’ immaturity, selfishness, and willingness to sacrifice others for his own comfort make him an unlikable hero. Unnecessary scenes filled with aimless wandering do little to enhance the story, and the ending feels both forced and abrupt. Oddly, it also introduces many missed opportunities for inspiring characters and interesting drama. Russian surnames hint at a Northern European inspiration and, unfortunately, beg comparison to the far superior worldbuilding and plotting of Leigh Bardugo.

Lacking in all but length, this adventure never makes it off the ground. (Adventure. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61963-627-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

From the Peculiar Children series , Vol. 1

Riggs spins a gothic tale of strangely gifted children and the monsters that pursue them from a set of eerie, old trick photographs.

The brutal murder of his grandfather and a glimpse of a man with a mouth full of tentacles prompts months of nightmares and psychotherapy for 15-year-old Jacob, followed by a visit to a remote Welsh island where, his grandfather had always claimed, there lived children who could fly, lift boulders and display like weird abilities. The stories turn out to be true—but Jacob discovers that he has unwittingly exposed the sheltered “peculiar spirits” (of which he turns out to be one) and their werefalcon protector to a murderous hollowgast and its shape-changing servant wight. The interspersed photographs—gathered at flea markets and from collectors—nearly all seem to have been created in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and generally feature stone-faced figures, mostly children, in inscrutable costumes and situations. They are seen floating in the air, posing with a disreputable-looking Santa, covered in bees, dressed in rags and kneeling on a bomb, among other surreal images. Though Jacob’s overdeveloped back story gives the tale a slow start, the pictures add an eldritch element from the early going, and along with creepy bad guys, the author tucks in suspenseful chases and splashes of gore as he goes. He also whirls a major storm, flying bullets and a time loop into a wild climax that leaves Jacob poised for the sequel.

A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end. (Horror/fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59474-476-1

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

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A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula.

HOCUS POCUS AND THE ALL-NEW SEQUEL

In honor of its 25th anniversary, a Disney Halloween horror/comedy film gets a sequel to go with its original novelization.

Three Salem witches hanged in 1693 for stealing a child’s life force are revived in 1993 when 16-year-old new kid Max completes a spell by lighting a magical candle (which has to be kindled by a virgin to work). Max and dazzling, popular classmate Allison have to keep said witches at bay until dawn to save all of the local children from a similar fate. Fast-forward to 2018: Poppy, daughter of Max and Allison, inadvertently works a spell that sends her parents and an aunt to hell in exchange for the gleeful witches. With help from her best friend, Travis, and classmate Isabella, on whom she has a major crush, Poppy has only hours to keep the weird sisters from working more evil. The witches, each daffier than the last, supply most of the comedy as well as plenty of menace but end up back in the infernal regions. There’s also a talking cat, a talking dog, a gaggle of costumed heroines, and an oblique reference to a certain beloved Halloween movie. Traditional Disney wholesomeness is spiced, not soured, by occasional innuendo and a big twist in the sequel. Poppy and her family are white, while Travis and Isabella are both African-American.

A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-02003-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Freeform/Disney

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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