Monty Python teams up with Maxwell Smart for a wrestling match with Tolkien—splendid.

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THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE

Spy thrills meet fantasy rivalries as an elitist elf and a bookish goblin strike up a cross-cultural kerfuffle in Anderson and Yelchin’s collaborative meditation on prejudice.

Scholar Brangwain Spurge of the Realm of Elfland is sent to deliver a historically significant gift to the ruler of the neighboring goblins—and to make some covert observations. Little does he know that his spy mission, related in multipage wordless sequences of black-and-white illustrations, is in fact an assassination. Meanwhile, in an interleaved third-person prose narrative, Werfel, a goblin archivist, is thrilled to meet and host the elf historian, sure that they will find fertile common ground to begin easing the 1,000-year-old tension between their two kingdoms. Dismayed, however, by Spurge’s lack of appreciation and downright snobbishness, Werfel is horrified to find his guest has betrayed his hospitality and caught the attention of the goblin secret police as their two kingdoms head, once again, toward conflict. Occasional letters from Elfland’s spymaster assist the two primary narratives. The book makes no secret about its own position even as it cheerfully asks readers to think critically about ideologies and their agendas and the manufactured barriers of misinformation and misunderstanding. Together, Anderson and Yelchin craft something that feels impossible, a successfully unorthodox epistolary, pictorial, and prose narrative that interrogates the cultural ramifications of unchallenged viewpoints and the government violence they abet even as it recounts the comedic blunderings of a spy mission gone wrong.

Monty Python teams up with Maxwell Smart for a wrestling match with Tolkien—splendid. (Fantasy. 10-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9822-5

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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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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An entertaining fantasy set in a world that readers will want to revisit.

THESE HOLLOW VOWS

Brie risks the deadly land of the Fae to save her sister.

Brie doesn’t trust many people other than Jas, her eternally hopeful sister, and Sebastian, mage apprentice and Brie’s secret love (as if she had time for romance). Brie struggles to meet the payments for the magical contracts binding their lives to Madame Vivias, supplementing her cleaning work by stealing from the rich. While the land of Faerie tempts other girls with word of a castle, a lavish ball, and a fae prince seeking a wife, Brie mistrusts the creatures who capitalize on humanity’s greed. When Jas’ contract is sold to the fae, Brie braves the golden Seelie queen’s court, meets the noble Prince Ronan, and travels on to the Unseelie king’s shadow court. In the process she discovers love, historical secrets, atrocities, and her own hidden strength. While many elements regarding the fae and a love triangle will feel familiar to fans of the genre, and the magic could have been more fleshed out, discussions of power, inequity, trust, and hope expand the worldbuilding in refreshing ways. Similarly, consideration of the balance between truth and secrets, lies and stories, is intriguing as it’s applied to characters, relationships, and historical lore. Despite certain predictable reveals, the plot itself, which starts off slowly, picks up and is pleasantly convoluted with multiple satisfying surprises. Major human characters read as White.

An entertaining fantasy set in a world that readers will want to revisit. (Fantasy. 13-16)

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-38657-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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