Memorable but bumpy

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CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS

A vivid but uneven debut takes place in an Asian-blend fantasy world.

The Bhinian Empire has a “two-child law.” Because boys are more valued, infant girls were smothered or left for wolves until the creation of the City of a Thousand Dolls. Not a city but rather “a large private estate ringed by a high stone wall,” this refuge grooms girls in one of six Houses—Flowers, Beauty, Pleasure, Combat, Jade and Music—until a man claims them as wife or mistress or until (shown less often) a healer or tradesperson selects them as apprentice. Now 16, Nisha has been here since age 6. Her unknown parentage and unique status (working as “Matron’s shadow” rather than training in a House) render her a predictable fantasy archetype. When girls begin turning up dead, Nisha pursues the truth—accidents? murders? suicides?—hoping to circumvent the Council’s plan to sell her and ruin her chance for freedom. Although Forster supplies twists and mystery, moments of revelation are somewhat lackluster. A romance thread targets readers older than those who’ll be riveted by Nisha’s special relationship with wild cats. (Bizarrely, those two themes eventually converge.) Moreover, Bhinian culture is a troublingly arbitrary amalgam of South Asian and East Asian details—jeera puffs and mukhwas, tea ceremonies and fan dancing, names like Akash tar’Vey or Lotus Emperor.

Memorable but bumpy . (Fantasy. 11-15)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-212130-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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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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Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun.

STARSIGHT

From the Skyward series , Vol. 2

As if the threat of huge, raging monsters from hyperspace isn’t scary enough, hotshot fighter pilot Spensa Nightshade becomes embroiled in an alien empire’s politics.

On a desperate mission to steal hyperdrive technology from the crablike invading Krell who are threatening to destroy her beleaguered home colony on Detritus, Spensa, who is white, holographically disguises herself as a violet-skinned UrDail and slips into a Krell pilot training program for “lesser species.” The discovery that she’s being secretly trained not to fight planet-destroying delvers but to exterminate humans, who are (with some justification, having kindled three interstellar wars in past centuries) regarded in certain quarters as an irrationally aggressive species, is just one in a string of revelations as, in between numerous near-death experiences on practice flights, she struggles to understand both her own eerie abilities and the strange multispecies society in which she finds herself. There are so many characters besides Spensa searching for self-identity—notably her comic-relief sidekick AI M-Bot, troubled human friend Jorgen back on Detritus, and Morriumur, member of a species whose color-marked sexes create trial offspring—that even with a plot that defaults to hot action and escalating intrigue the pacing has a stop and start quality. Still, Spensa’s habitual over-the-top recklessness adds a rousing spark, and the author folds in plenty of banter as well as a colorful supporting cast.

Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun. (Science fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-55581-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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