THE TRAITOR KING

This first novel feels like one. Eleven-year-old Darren has always felt like an oddball, which is why he enjoys the annual visit to his oddball uncle’s cabin. Each year, a treasure hunt awaits, with obscure clues tucked away throughout the house and nearby town. This year’s hunt proves the most elusive ever, as Uncle Will has disappeared, leaving only a note about watering his plants and returning his library book. Darren eventually puzzles out a startling realization about his family’s origins and powers, but through a secret passage and into Tir na N’Og, the story sadly starts to lose its edge, becoming more predictable and less convincing as Darren has responsibilities thrust upon him. The cleverness and pre-adolescent questioning of adults that make him such an appealing and self-empowering character seem to fade away in the other world, where he just acts as all fantasy novels direct. Thankfully, a brisk pace carries readers to a satisfying enough ending. Though Mitchell’s complex and gripping set-up slumps through its lackluster resolution, it promises more polished progeny. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-439-82788-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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TRISTAN STRONG DESTROYS THE WORLD

From the Tristan Strong series , Vol. 2

Tristan Strong is back in this sequel to Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (2019).

A month’s passed since rising eighth grader Tristan’s first adventure in Alke, the world where African American folktale heroes are gods who live alongside African deities. Tristan’s now an Anansesem, “a carrier and spreader of stories,” and after the Shamble Man, a new foe, kidnaps his grandmother and takes her back to Alke, he follows, determined to rescue her. Tristan heads off on an adventure that will challenge his reluctant hero-ness (realistically, this aspect of his character hasn’t changed) and force him to reckon with the truth: Though he saved Alke, he was also the reason Alke was in danger in the first place. Fans of the first book will cheer the return of old friends, like capable, reliable Ayanna; the ever quippy Gum Baby (who steals the show, as per usual); and cellphone-bound trickster Anansi, and appreciate the new characters. The ending is nothing short of earth-shattering, promising a fascinating next entry. Well-paced—just like the previous installment—this sequel focuses on themes such as the meaning of diaspora and the effects of trauma, making for a more nuanced and stronger story than the first. The human characters are Black with varying shades of brown skin.

Packs a punch. (map) (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-368-04238-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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