BLADE OF FIRE

THE ICEMARK CHRONICLES, BOOK 2

A huge (in every way) disappointment, this bloated sequel to Cry of the Icemark (2005) bogs down a tale terrific at its core in a mire of uninspired subplots, unnecessary explanations and predictable set pieces. Twenty years later, crazed general Scipio Bellorum is again massing troops to invade the chilly Icemark. Suspecting that not even her nonhuman allies will be enough to turn the tide this time, Queen Thirrin sends Charlemagne, youngest of her five children, overseas to safety—but “Sharley” has other ideas, and even though hobbled by both polio and adolescent lack of confidence, he embarks on a quest to find new allies. Watching him grow, mature and meet new (if not particularly original) peoples provides the same fascination that his mother’s similar journey supplied in the previous episode. Compelled to give nearly every character a point of view, though, Hill keeps putting Sharley’s part on hold while cycling tediously through an unwieldy Icemark cast. Eventually the foes all come together, Sharley charges in with dark-skinned armies from “Arifica” mounted on horses and zebras, the cardboard villains are washed away in fountains of blood and Sharley’s truly bad-apple witch sister Medea is dispatched to another dimension—doubtless to await the next sequel. Some good parts, but not enough to meet expectations. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-439-84122-4

Page Count: 584

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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GATHERING BLUE

From the Giver Quartet series , Vol. 2

Lowry returns to the metaphorical future world of her Newbery-winning The Giver (1993) to explore the notion of foul reality disguised as fair. Born with a twisted leg, Kira faces a bleak future after her mother dies suddenly, leaving her without protection. Despite her gift for weaving and embroidery, the village women, led by cruel, scarred Vandara, will certainly drive the lame child into the forest, where the “beasts” killed her father, or so she’s been told. Instead, the Council of Guardians intervenes. In Kira’s village, the ambient sounds of voices raised in anger and children being slapped away as nuisances quiets once a year when the Singer, with his intricately carved staff and elaborately embroidered robe, recites the tale of humanity’s multiple rises and falls. The Guardians ask Kira to repair worn historical scenes on the Singer’s robe and promise her the panels that have been left undecorated. Comfortably housed with two other young orphans—Thomas, a brilliant wood-carver working on the Singer’s staff, and tiny Jo, who sings with an angel’s voice—Kira gradually realizes that their apparent freedom is illusory, that their creative gifts are being harnessed to the Guardians’ agenda. And she begins to wonder about the deaths of her parents and those of her companions—especially after the seemingly hale old woman who is teaching her to dye expires the day after telling her there really are no beasts in the woods. The true nature of her society becomes horribly clear when the Singer appears for his annual performance with chained, bloody ankles, followed by Kira’s long-lost father, who, it turns out, was blinded and left for dead by a Guardian. Next to the vividly rendered supporting cast, the gentle, kindhearted Kira seems rather colorless, though by electing at the end to pit her artistic gift against the status quo instead of fleeing, she does display some inner stuff. Readers will find plenty of material for thought and discussion here, plus a touch of magic and a tantalizing hint (stay sharp, or you’ll miss it) about the previous book’s famously ambiguous ending. A top writer, in top form. (author’s note) (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-618-05581-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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Miah’s melodramatic death overshadows a tale as rich in social and personal insight as any of Woodson’s previous books.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY

In a meditative interracial love story with a wrenching climactic twist, Woodson (The House You Pass on the Way, 1997, etc.) offers an appealing pair of teenagers and plenty of intellectual grist, before ending her story with a senseless act of violence.

Jeremiah and Elisha bond from the moment they collide in the hall of their Manhattan prep school: He’s the only child of celebrity parents; she’s the youngest by ten years in a large family. Not only sharply sensitive to the reactions of those around them, Ellie and Miah also discover depths and complexities in their own intense feelings that connect clearly to their experiences, their social environment, and their own characters. In quiet conversations and encounters, Woodson perceptively explores varieties of love, trust, and friendship, as she develops well-articulated histories for both families. Suddenly Miah, forgetting his father’s warning never to be seen running in a white neighborhood, exuberantly dashes into a park and is shot down by police. The parting thought that, willy-nilly, time moves on will be a colder comfort for stunned readers than it evidently is for Ellie.

Miah’s melodramatic death overshadows a tale as rich in social and personal insight as any of Woodson’s previous books. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-399-23112-9

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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