A superhero series opener that should work quick, indelible magic on audiences.


A YA fantasy features an underprivileged teen who starts displaying fantastic powers.

In this first installment of a series, young Marc Mondragon of Rifle, Colorado, is dirt poor. He and his mother, Jenny, struggle in the absence of his fireman father, who died. Making life worse are two thin bumps on his shoulder blades that might be cancerous and Deputy Brandwhite, who chases him for graffiti he didn’t spray. Marc has also been experiencing haunting dreams about a creature “speaking fire.” One day, after a night of pursuit by the deputy—which led the teen to an odd-smelling drainage pipe—Marc makes himself a grilled cheese sandwich. When he uses the wrong portion of the electric stovetop, he burns his hand but feels no pain. In his excitement, he bikes to the diner where Jenny works to show her. Elsewhere, the wealthy James Leopold Drakesel fears for his family’s legacy. He’s contracted the coldblooded Stone Stajinkski to kill numerous children who pose some sort of threat. Marc, meanwhile, encounters a cocky young skater named Steve Yabloka, who offers to get him a new skateboard. Later Marc learns that Steve is like him, impervious to flame, and even able to control it. It turns out that they both belong to the Dragonkyn. Crafting a sure-footed fantasy with familiar elements, Jones (Boy Who Ate America, 2007) grips readers with brisk pacing and a winning mythos. He also excels in portraying the teen traumas of acne, bullies, and classroom crushes, all underlined by an X-Men–style barrage of superpowers, including telekinesis and Firespew (spouting fire). Evocative prose lifts the narrative above the average coming-of-age action fantasy (“In his very pores a new relationship was forming with the gaseous alien called fire”). Throughout, Jones uses a substance called lix, which Dragonkyn drink from a canteen as a supposed performance enhancer, to warn against teen alcohol abuse. Agile storytelling allows readers to see the threat of rogue Dragonkyn in New York City and potentially elsewhere in future installments. A blowout ending should ensure readers will return.

A superhero series opener that should work quick, indelible magic on audiences.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4621-1978-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Cedar Fort

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.


This YA SF novel features a teen who must halt a virus that will kill two-thirds of humanity.

In Silver Oak, Maryland, Alice Sherman is a high school junior enjoying lunch near her campus basketball court. With her is Archie, her brother, a senior and science prodigy who likes equations more than his fellow students. Alice has been Archie’s one true friend since their mother left six years ago. Alice is about to catch up with Lalana Bunyasarn, her best friend, when a sudden “streak of electricity zaps through” her head. The agony intensifies until a Voice enters Alice’s mind, asking her, “Do you want this pain to stop?” The Voice then instructs her to go up to Bandit Sakda, a classmate playing basketball, and say that she loves him. Bandit is a beautiful Thai boy who’s talented and arrogant. Strangely, the Voice calls her Malice and says not to fall for him because “it’ll only make what you have to do later harder.” Eventually, Alice learns that the Voice belongs to someone from 10 years in the future who needs help saving humanity. A virus will be created by a person Alice knows that will wipe out two-thirds of the world population. Following the Voice’s directions can save everyone—except the person Alice is ordered to kill. Dunn’s (Star-Crossed, 2018, etc.) latest YA adventure offers increasingly tantalizing twists that gleam in succession like nested matryoshka dolls. Alice will charm readers with her quirks, especially her devotion to Chris Hemsworth of Marvel’s Avengers films. Tension builds as characters in the large cast, including crushworthy Zeke Cain and the brilliant Cristela Ruiz, become potential targets for Alice’s mission. Details about Thai culture add a splendid dimension to the narrative; for example, Bandit is pronounced “bun-dit” and means “one who is wise.” While the notion of a high school killer may not sit well with some, the author doesn’t use the device lightly. Her book takes a strong anti-bullying stance, doing so through an entertaining narrative that doesn’t resort to preaching. The author’s heart and craftiness make a sequel welcome.

Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64063-412-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.


From the The Kingmakers' War series , Vol. 1

A girl who has been dismissed and distrusted for most of her life must prove herself in this quest novel.

Briand Varryda dresses like a boy and is the unwanted ward of her uncle. Denied education and often even food, she realizes that her only friends are her cousin Bran and, sometimes, the soldier Tibus. Briand can look after herself: She’s good with a knife and light on her feet. But this time, she’s in real trouble. Briand has cleaned out one soldier too many at the card game Dubbok. When Tibus saves her from vengeful pursuers, he has no choice but to then turn her over to Kael, steward of her uncle’s castle—who has a reputation for cruelty and who, with the help of Bran’s loathsome tutor, Nath, is conducting secret experiments involving young noblemen and poisonous snakes. Kael gives her one last chance. Briand tries to go straight; she attempts to do the right thing. But when she intervenes in one of Kael’s experiments, she gets more than she bargained for. By passing a test meant for Bran, Briand becomes a “dragonsayer,” with “the ability to speak to and sometimes control animals of magic, particularly dragons.” From despised guttersnipe, she has now risen to being the kingdom’s last hope against the usurper prince and his deadly Seekers—but that’s no reason for her companions to think any better of her. In this short novel, Ellison (With Tide and Tempest, 2014, etc.) takes fantasy tropes and makes them feel original. The same achievement can be seen in characterization. Briand and all the others are easily recognizable types but still seem unique. Briand, in particular, is somehow not the typical orphan who makes good. This is made possible by the author’s no-nonsense prose and pacing and some astute worldbuilding. The necessary background details (with the exception of some that find their way into speech) are foreshadowed rather than dumped. This allows Briand to forge her own path and for the story to grip and take hold. Although this is the first book in a series, the plot is largely self-contained. Readers will be left with closure but still wanting more.

Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5028-7264-7

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2019

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