Despite underbaked elements, a socially conscious fantasy with appealing themes and tensions.

NAMELESS QUEEN

A teen from the lowest social class is selected as the new queen.

Seriden’s population consists of Royals, Legals, and the Nameless, deprived of basic rights—even wearing clothing belonging to another caste is a potentially execution-worthy offense. Seriden’s ruled by a sovereign who, on their deathbed, names an heir, transferring the royal magic and a crown tattoo. A Nameless grifter who calls herself Coin panics when the king dies and the crown tattoo shows up on her arm, putting her in mortal danger from Royals wishing to usurp her. First seeking simple survival, Coin, by trial and error, figures out what power she has to improve things while also trying to determine how a Nameless could be named heir and why Nameless have been disappearing. Some world mechanics are eventually explained, but the worldbuilding tends toward flimsy. Racial descriptors are largely absent; the focus is on class divisions. The lack of a romantic storyline strengthens the platonic relationships the themes depend on; as outcast Coin weaves a new interpersonal network and explores her ability to belong to society and her obligation to improve it, the result is an empowerment narrative and an appealing family-of-choice focus. While the plot carries a few surprises, it’s marred by a too-obvious villain and too-easy solutions. The strength lies in the characters’ emotional inner lives that help ground the themes which have strong ties to our reality.

Despite underbaked elements, a socially conscious fantasy with appealing themes and tensions. (Fantasy. 12-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-0026-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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A lushly written story with an intriguing heart.

ONCE UPON A BROKEN HEART

From the Once Upon a Broken Heart series , Vol. 1

After praying to a Fate for help, Evangeline discovers the dangerous world of magic.

When her father passes away, Evangeline is left with her cold stepmother and kind but distant stepsister, Marisol. Despite inheriting a steady trust in magic, belief in her late mother’s homeland of the mystical North (where fantastical creatures live), and philosophy of hope for the future, her dreams are dashed when Luc, her love, pledges to marry Marisol instead. Evangeline desperately prays to the Prince of Hearts, a dangerous and fickle Fate famed for his heart that is waiting to be revived by his one true love—and his potentially lethal kisses. The bargain they strike sends her on a dark and magical journey throughout the land. The writing style fluctuates from clever and original to overly verbose and often confusing in its jumble of senses. While the pervasive magic and concept of the Fates as a religious system add interest, other fantasy elements are haphazardly incorporated without enough time devoted to building a cohesive world. However, the themes of love, the power of story, family influence, and holding onto belief are well rounded and add depth. The plot contains welcome surprises, and the large cast piques curiosity; readers will wish more time was spent getting to know them. Evangeline has rose-gold hair and, like other main characters, reads as White; there is diversity among the fantasy races in this world.

A lushly written story with an intriguing heart. (map) (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26839-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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