The strong magic system and plentiful conflicts don’t make up for problematic missteps.

BLOOD & HONEY

From the Serpent & Dove series , Vol. 2

After Serpent & Dove (2019), Lou and Reid must gather allies to take on villainous Morgane.

In a stumbling first act, witch Lou and her forced-husband–turned-love, Reid, struggle to retain likability, making foolish decisions while hiding out from enemies as the heroes regroup and prepare for their next encounter. In a painful bit of characterization, Lou’s sassy empowerment comes at the cost, early on, of the sexual boundaries of the characters around her (unfortunately played as steamy). Further troubling characterization comes in a classist scene in which the heroes mock a dirty, poor person for having missing teeth. To stop Morgane’s murderous endgame spell, they must forge an alliance between enemies: blood witches (Coco’s people), the witch hunters, and werewolves. A colorful surprise alliance comes when they join traveling performers with secrets. Lou and Reid’s romance hits character-driven speed bumps—Lou’s pull toward magic’s darker side isn’t terribly original but is solidly done, and it strengthens Reid’s self-hating and self-acceptance storyline, fueling his anti-magic bias. There’s plenty of action, and secondary characters have their own romantic storylines. The climax gives only a moment to breathe before sinister implications for the next book set in. Though the leads default to white, racial diversity is present in the world and in secondary characters (like brown-skinned Coco and Beau, who is coded as white and Polynesian); additionally, there’s casual inclusion of same-sex relationships and respectful bisexuality representation.

The strong magic system and plentiful conflicts don’t make up for problematic missteps. (Fantasy. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287805-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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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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A disappointing delivery on a potentially gripping second volume.

THE BALLAD OF NEVER AFTER

From the Once Upon a Broken Heart series , Vol. 2

Evangeline faces new dangers in her quest for happiness in this follow-up to 2021’s Once Upon a Broken Heart.

As Evangeline Fox seeks a cure for her poisoned husband, Prince Apollo, the enticing and infuriating Fate Jacks reappears, offering to save Apollo if she unlocks the Valory Arch. Remembering the long list of ills brought upon her by the Fate, Evangeline refuses. When the new heir arrives and Apollo wakes with a new curse and glowing red eyes, she is forced to delve into the mysteries of the Valors and find the arch’s four missing magical stones whose powers are luck, truth, mirth, and youth. The inclusion of expanded Valor lore alongside the preexisting blend of fairy-tale and paranormal creatures is intriguing and fits the overarching theme of storytelling as history. The ongoing use of emotions as a scale for displaying and determining one’s humanity, especially by Fates, is equally interesting. Unfortunately, the impact of Evangeline’s often amusing narration and numerous surprising plot twists is diluted by the meandering pacing, convoluted sensory descriptions, and close focus on Evangeline’s fluctuating attraction toward her potential love interests. Despite the positive emphasis on hope and happily-ever-afters, Evangeline’s romantic relationship with Jacks borders on manipulative and toxic. Evangeline reads White; side characters are fantasy diverse.

A disappointing delivery on a potentially gripping second volume. (map) (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-26842-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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