Gripping and fresh, with memorable characters—a winner.

RAVEN

From the Cinzento Academy series , Vol. 1

A team of teenage computer security experts tackles a mysterious hacker.

In the near future, the Cinzento Secure corporation, which focuses on cybersecurity, also houses the Cinzento Academy. Though all the students are gifted, Team Raven is especially elite, composed of computer-skill prodigies more qualified than most adults. As “Mom,” the kids’ lunch lady/counselor/substitute parent says, “They’re a pretty special bunch—when they don’t let it go to their heads.” The team lead is Ginger “Fireball” Finney, 16, named for her “flame-colored” hair. Other team members, each with their own nicknames, work on specialties like system integration, networking, security, and hacking. Newly recruited to Team Raven is Angel Cambeiro, 17, perhaps inevitably nicknamed Noob; his field of expertise is troubleshooting. The team’s latest assignment is to solve a security breach that’s caused multiple problems at a major bank. The crew is confident they’ve got the chops but soon discover “an epidemic of weird,” as Fireball puts it. For example, the glitches seem to disappear on their own. But why would a hacker go to the trouble of breaking a system only to fix it? Who is the mysterious helper sending the team coded messages? And what’s happened to Zander Grayson, Cinzento Secure’s CEO? As Team Raven works to unravel the mysteries, which begin affecting the country’s entire infrastructure, they encounter big revelations.

Loh uses her background as a Microsoft software engineer to give her debut the ring of authenticity in plot, action, and dialogue. Though the concepts may be unfamiliar for nontechies, Loh makes them as understandable as possible, engaging readers through her teenage characters’ slangy energy: “Within minutes, memory maxed out, ​all ​the drives filled up, and the machine controlling them crashed and rebooted. ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?’ murmured Scrappy.” The book is also well plotted and paced so that tensions and complexities develop intriguingly. Readers may guess some of the mysteries ahead of time, but it’s still enjoyable to see the team puzzle them out. Despite the novel’s tech focus, another strength is that it’s character-driven. The diverse young protagonists may be geniuses, but they’re still maturing. For example, when Fireball and fellow team member Scrappy deliver a martial arts beat down to bullies threatening a city bus driver, she numbers it among “instinctive acts of kindness.” Later that day, Fireball lets information slip to a reporter who’d questioned her abilities. As a result, she’s temporarily removed as team lead and reflects on the bus incident. It’s true they genuinely hate bullies, “But hadn’t some of it been about pride? About needing to establish worth?” This reflectiveness helps balance what could be a smug undertone to the team’s superiority of skill. The arrival of a new member, too, provides conflict through team friction plus a graceful excuse for necessary exposition.

Gripping and fresh, with memorable characters—a winner.

Pub Date: May 20, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 353

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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An accomplished, exciting debut.

ALL THE STARS AND TEETH

From the All the Stars and Teeth series , Vol. 1

A princess embarks on a dangerous path to the throne.

In the island kingdom of Visidia, where each person is allowed just one type of magic, only the members of the royal Montara family have the ability to wield the dangerous soul magic. Princess Amora is next in line to be High Animancer, but she must first prove to her people that she is powerful enough to use her magic to protect them. But something goes terribly wrong during a critical public ceremony, and Amora runs away with dashing pirate Bastian, whose rescue comes with a price: She must help him recover his own magic, stolen away by a dangerous man leading a growing rebellion that could bring down the whole kingdom. Debut author Grace wields her own magic with a skillful balancing act between high-stakes adventure (here there be monsters, mermaids, and high-seas shenanigans), bloody fantasy, and character development in a story with a lovable found family at its core. Amora yearns for adventure just as she welcomes her right to command her kingdom; her ferocious sense of duty and legitimate need to do good shine through. The novel’s further unravelling of dark secrets long kept comes with a recognized need for accountability and making amends which adds a thoughtful extra layer to the rich worldbuilding. Amora has copper-brown skin and dark, curly hair; other characters have a range of skin tones in this diverse world.

An accomplished, exciting debut. (guide to the kingdom) (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30778-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Imprint

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An inventive, character-driven twist breathes new life into tired fantasy trends.

RED QUEEN

From the Red Queen series , Vol. 1

Amid a war and rising civil unrest, a young thief discovers the shocking power within her that sparks a revolution.

At 17, Mare knows that without an apprenticeship or job, her next birthday will bring a conscription to join the war. She contributes to her poor family’s income the only way she can, stealing from the Silvers, who possess myriad powers and force her and her fellow Reds into servitude. The Silvers literally bleed silver, and they can manipulate metal, plants and animals, among many other talents. When Mare’s best friend, Kilorn, loses his job and is doomed to conscription, she is determined to change his fate. She stumbles into a mysterious stranger after her plan goes awry and is pulled out of her village and into the world of Silver royalty. Once inside the palace walls, it isn’t long before Mare learns that powers unknown to red-blooded humans lie within her, powers that could lead a revolution. Familiar tropes abound. Mare is revealed as a great catalyst for change among classes and is groomed from rags to riches, and of course, seemingly kind characters turn out to be foes. However, Aveyard weaves a compelling new world, and Mare and the two men in her life evolve intriguingly as class tension rises. Revolution supersedes romance, setting the stage for action-packed surprises.

An inventive, character-driven twist breathes new life into tired fantasy trends. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-231063-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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