For all its cool premise, this fantasy’s full of tropes but no surprises.

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DRAGON OPS

Trapped inside a mixed-reality game, two siblings race the clock to defeat a villainous AI dragon and rescue their cousin.

Ian Rivera, a 12-year-old misunderstood gamer, loves the Fields of Fantasy role-playing game more than anyone. Now he gets to enter the world through Dragon Ops, a mixed-reality theme park on a small island. When the game’s ultimate, undefeatable opponent seizes control of the game, the stakes rise to the highest possible level: die in the game, die in real life. In order to beat that boss—Atreus, a red dragon with fire power—Ian’s party needs to collect three Elemental Stones from the other three dragons that maintain balance in the world: earth, water, and (no, not air) ice. Mancusi packs the story with references to memes, video games, and Disney in the vein of Ready Player One (the movie is actively referenced in the text). The surname Rivera is the only indicator of cultural identity for Ian and his family. They are otherwise presumed white. Ikumi, a girl whose avatar has “eyes like an anime character's," is Japanese, as is one of the game’s creators. Their representation comes in the form of sprinkled-in lines about bowing and “gaijin,” which smacks more of exoticization than authenticity, especially as they are seen through Ian’s perspective.

For all its cool premise, this fantasy’s full of tropes but no surprises. (Science fiction/fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-368-04090-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion/LBYR

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun

THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 1

It’s been 42 days since the Monster Apocalypse began, and 13-year-old Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” is on a quest to find and rescue his not-so-secret crush, June Del Toro, whether she needs it, wants it, or not.

Jack cobbles together an unlikely but endearing crew, including his scientist best friend, Quint Baker; Dirk Savage, Parker Middle School’s biggest bully; and a pet monster named Rover, to help him save the damsel in distress and complete the “ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success.” Middle-grade readers, particularly boys, will find Jack’s pitch-perfect mix of humor, bravado, and self-professed geekiness impossible to resist. His sidekicks are equally entertaining, and it doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of oozing, drooling, sharp-toothed monsters and zombies and a host of gizmos and gadgets to hook readers and keep them cheering with every turn of the page. Holgate’s illustrations play an integral role in the novel’s success. They not only bring Brallier’s characters to life, but also add depth and detail to the story, making plain just exactly how big Rover is and giving the lie to Jack’s “killer driving.” The marriage of text and illustration serves as a perfect example of what an illustrated novel can and should be.

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun (. (Graphic/horror hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01661-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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