While suffering from a surfeit of events and ideas, still a truly terrific read.

HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS

A delightful middle-grade fantasy falters only in its excess of exuberance.

Matilda, the 13-year-old princess of a tiny medieval fiefdom, has been lame since birth; consequently, her people consider her “cursed” and fear she will remain unwed. Tilda refuses to show any hurt; after all, she’d rather retire to a convent and write great treatises anyway. But when her only friends, her handmaid Judith and the disgraced squire Parzifal, rescue her from a kidnapping plot, Tilda decides that, rather than return home, the trio should instead begin researching her first work: a Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Dragons, however, prove to be the least of the perils ahead of her….Haskell’s sophomore outing is another clever, witty and empowering tale, fluently melding historical fact and legendary material. Tilda is a splendid heroine: Wry, intelligent, sensitive and stronger than she thinks, she conceals her pain behind icy stoicism and discounts her courage and compassion as foolishness. Judith and Parz seem to be charming and supportive companions, although readers scarcely get to know them. There are simply too many intriguing characters and too many dramatic encounters for any to be explored satisfactorily. Tilda is held prisoner no less than three different times, and she faces down supernatural threats, from dragons to the Wild Hunt to an evil sorcerer, all on the way to an epiphany that completely alters her self-perception and goals.

While suffering from a surfeit of events and ideas, still a truly terrific read. (Historical fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 28, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-200816-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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Rescues and kittens by the carload, with a bit of inner growth on the side.

BASTILLE VS. THE EVIL LIBRARIANS

From the Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series , Vol. 6

Previous prognostications of failure and doom notwithstanding, this bustling entry features miraculous survivals and just deserts for the biblio-baddies.

Switching narrators in the wake of devastating deeds at the end of The Dark Talent (2016), the co-authors pick up the action with stern, stab-happy Bastille describing her rescue of traumatized Alcatraz Smedry from a Library of Congress that is filling up with lava, then a desperate effort to keep ultra-evil librarian Biblioden the Scrivener from forcing the world’s remaining Free Kingdoms to check themselves out permanently. Despite her own forewarnings of a disastrous ending and stern suggestion to start with Volume 1 for the backstory, she does fill in enough of what’s going on for readers to keep pace—and in characteristically take-no-prisoners tones, lays out a rip-roaring tale in which she fulfills her role as Alcatraz’s protector with plenty of brisk (if bloodless) sword work and an unshakeable loyalty that, along with the occasional punch, draws him out of a paralyzing slough of guilt and self-loathing. A climactic battle features a horde of bloodthirsty kittens and a ravenous, punning monster—followed by hints that surviving librarians may be taking up worthier missions and, since Bastille insists on the veracity of this account, credible reasons why people the world around have talents for being late, breaking things, and like peccadillos. Most of the heroically posed figures in Lazo’s realistically modeled illustrations are light-skinned.

Rescues and kittens by the carload, with a bit of inner growth on the side. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-25-081106-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Starscape/Tom Doherty

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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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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