THE WICKED ONES

From the Dark Ascension series , Vol. 1

Psychologically astute entertainment with a bite.

In this series opener, Benway offers a prequel to Disney’s animated classic Cinderella from the points of view of the original protagonist’s stepsisters.

Widowed Lady Tremaine, mother to Drizella, 17, and Anastasia, 16, and stepmother to Ella, more than lives up to her bad press. To repair the family’s tattered fortunes, she commands her daughters to compete with far wealthier young ladies at the prince’s upcoming debut party, hoping one of them will win his heart with her beauty and accomplishments. The sisters are reluctant and untalented students of music, but Drizella is nevertheless to sing, accompanied by Anastasia on the flute. Ella, 16, made a household drudge since her father’s death, is ordered to accompany her stepsisters as their servant. Lady Tremaine, sadistically ladylike, bullies and disparages her daughters; they in turn have a conflicted relationship with Ella, who sings beautifully, sews clothes for mice, and meekly accepts abuse. The sisters dread the ridicule their threadbare gowns and awful performances will elicit. Then, chance meetings offer both sisters the opportunities to escape to different lives, provided they can avoid detection by Lady Tremaine. Despite interludes of humor, hope, and joyful anticipation, the prevailing mood is dark. Illuminated by emotional intelligence, Benway’s humanizing backstories give these iconic characters a claim to readers’ sympathy while prompting pointed questions as to the genealogy of evil. Characters read White.

Psychologically astute entertainment with a bite. (Fantasy. 12-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-368-07862-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Disney Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2022

POWERLESS

From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

A TEMPEST OF TEA

From the Blood and Tea series , Vol. 1

Crowd-pleasing fun laced with political fire: a winner.

Bestselling author Faizal returns to the universe of We Hunt the Flame (2019) with a stand-alone duology opener.

Orphaned Arthie, brown-skinned with mauve hair, has created a criminal empire out of sheer pluck despite being Ceylani in Ettenia, where laws favor white people. She pulled legendary pistol Calibore from a stone plinth (though the prophecy that doing so would make her the nation’s leader turned out to be a hoax). She’s also built Spindrift, a teahouse-cum-bloodhouse, where she gathers secrets from wealthy humans and vampires, amassing power and security. Now Arthie has her sights set on vengeance—and the Ram, Ettenia’s masked monarch. When she and Jin, her brother-by-choice (who’s cued East Asian), are drawn into a heist, they assemble a diverse crew of immigrants whose roles riff on genre archetypes. The lush prose pulses with feeling as revelations are dropped and the tension ratchets up, keeping the pages turning as the motley gang plans to infiltrate a vampire society, retrieve a stolen ledger, and double-cross one of the Ram’s guards (who might be planning to double-cross them). Their ultimate goal: taking down the colonizing Ettenians and the exploitative East Jeevant Company. It’s all very exciting right up to the action-packed finale, which promises more conspiracy and (hopefully) justice to come. This compelling read offers interesting commentary on our society while feeling entirely real within the context of its own worldbuilding.

Crowd-pleasing fun laced with political fire: a winner. (map) (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2024

ISBN: 9780374389406

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2023

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