Queer and lush—and appealing and flawed in equal measure.

NIGHT SHINE

A dark, sensuous riff on “Beauty and the Beast.”

The 100-year-old Sorceress Who Eats Girls has kidnapped the heir to the empire, and only Nothing, a 17-year-old girl who is the prince’s faithful companion, and Sky, his male bodyguard and secret lover, can possibly save him. While this is mostly Nothing’s story, Prince Kirin’s genderfluidity drives the inciting element and continues to be an important thread throughout (although male pronouns are used exclusively for Kirin). Nothing is a mystery to herself and others, but the Sorceress—gorgeously terrifying and playing the Beast role, complete with frequent marriage proposals—seems to know something of Nothing’s past. Threads of identity, choice, and power snake through this lush story, sometimes interrogated (the relationship between Nothing and Kirin), other times mired in sexual attraction (as with Nothing and the Sorceress). The dynamics of age and power differentials in the central sexual relationships are not explicitly addressed and may feel uncomfortable to some readers. The magic and the avalanche of physical details take center stage while the characters move through this cinematic sensory feast slightly out of focus, although Nothing and Sky appeal nevertheless. Many elements of the fantasy world feel inspired by ancient China without being overtly Asian. While race plays no explicit role, human characters are described with a range of skin tones from light to copper, with uniformly dark hair and eyes.

Queer and lush—and appealing and flawed in equal measure. (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6077-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A rush of emotion and suspense.

THE FIRST TO DIE AT THE END

Crowds gather across the United States for the launch of Death-Cast, a company that promises to change the world by predicting the deaths of everyone who subscribes in this prequel to They Both Die at the End (2017).

Orion Pagan, an aspiring author with a heart condition, hopes his phone won’t ring at midnight, but he knows Death-Cast’s call is coming soon. Unlike Orion, Valentino Prince, a model on the verge of his national debut, has no reason to anticipate Death-Cast’s call and isn’t sure if he believes the company’s claims. By coincidence or fate, their lives collide at a party in Times Square, and a single, historic phone call alters the courses of their futures. This heart-pounding story follows the final day of the first Decker, or person who is going to die, and the national chaos of Death-Cast’s premiere. Silvera crafts a web of intricately interconnected character perspectives and conflicts around Orion and Valentino. Apart from Valentino and his twin sister, who are presumed White, most of the characters are Latine, including White-passing Orion, whose family is Puerto Rican. The story confronts heavy topics like grief, abuse, and religious faith with complexity and care. Despite the presumed inevitability of a fatal end to the central romance between Orion and Valentino, Silvera subverts the trope of punishing gay characters with violent tragedy. Familiarity with the original book provides additional context and depth but isn’t essential to understanding the plot.

A rush of emotion and suspense. (Speculative fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-324080-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.

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SCYTHE

From the Arc of a Scythe series , Vol. 1

Two teens train to be society-sanctioned killers in an otherwise immortal world.

On post-mortal Earth, humans live long (if not particularly passionate) lives without fear of disease, aging, or accidents. Operating independently of the governing AI (called the Thunderhead since it evolved from the cloud), scythes rely on 10 commandments, quotas, and their own moral codes to glean the population. After challenging Hon. Scythe Faraday, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova reluctantly become his apprentices. Subjected to killcraft training, exposed to numerous executions, and discouraged from becoming allies or lovers, the two find themselves engaged in a fatal competition but equally determined to fight corruption and cruelty. The vivid and often violent action unfolds slowly, anchored in complex worldbuilding and propelled by political machinations and existential musings. Scythes’ journal entries accompany Rowan’s and Citra’s dual and dueling narratives, revealing both personal struggles and societal problems. The futuristic post–2042 MidMerican world is both dystopia and utopia, free of fear, unexpected death, and blatant racism—multiracial main characters discuss their diverse ethnic percentages rather than purity—but also lacking creativity, emotion, and purpose. Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions.

A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7242-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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