A pleasurable read despite some inconsistencies.

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IRON WIDOW

An individual vendetta fuels a systemic challenge in a war-torn world.

In Huaxia, a Chinese-influenced futuristic society, humankind is in a constant war with the Hunduns. These giant buglike aliens fly and attack with frightening power. In response, humans have built Chrysalises, war machines that take the shape of mythical animals and are powered by the qi of two pilots, one bringing the female yin force and the other the male yang. The female concubine-pilot typically dies in the battle, having been entirely drained of her qi. This sacrificial attitude toward females results in the death of narrator Zetian’s older sister. Bent on revenge, Zetian, a frontier girl who chafes at the idea of rigid gender roles and imagines the freedom of “giving onlookers no easy way to bind me with a simple label,” voluntarily becomes a concubine-pilot. She proclaims herself the nightmare these careless, selfishly ambitious boy pilots deserve to face. When she is paired with Li Shimin, a pilot and murderer with powerful qi, she must be strategic to survive the war and take down the patriarchy. Things become complicated when her forbidden love interest, wealthy, protective Yizhi, gets involved. The action-packed plot, involving battles both physical and mental, is original and incorporates queer themes and Zetian’s unwavering, cathartic feminism. However, lapses in worldbuilding and characters’ relationships result in some events feeling random and forced. The epilogue promises a sequel.

A pleasurable read despite some inconsistencies. (content note) (Science fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-6993-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Fans of empowering feminist fairy-tale retellings will love this.

THE GRIMROSE GIRLS

From the Grimrose Girls series , Vol. 1

Four reimagined fairy-tale heroines must confront their inner demons to break a curse.

Ella, Yuki, and Rory attend the prestigious Grimrose Académie for Elite Students in the Swiss Alps. They are currently grieving the death of one of their best friends, and while Ari’s death by drowning has been deemed either an accident or suicide, her closest friends have their doubts. When they find an old book of fairy tales hidden in Ari’s things, full of strange annotations in her handwriting, the girls start working—along with new student Nani—to investigate Ari’s suspicious death. As they put together the pieces and discover other deaths that happened at Grimrose, they start to wonder if there was magic involved in Ari’s death—magic that may also be at the core of their very lives, cursing them to unhappy endings. Grief, identity, and friendship intersect in this enthralling mystery with dark magical undertones that ingeniously plays with fairy-tale tropes to tell a feminist story about empowerment and grappling with how to break away from the confines of societal expectations of girls. Reminiscent of the works of Anna-Marie McLemore and Elana K. Arnold, this book ends with the promise of more to come. The main cast is queer and features diversity in disability and mental health. Rory and Ella default to White; Yuki’s name cues her as Japanese, and Nani is Black and Native Hawaiian.

Fans of empowering feminist fairy-tale retellings will love this. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-72822-887-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Black is building a complex mythology; now is a great time to tune in.

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THE CRUEL PRINCE

From the Folk of the Air series , Vol. 1

Black is back with another dark tale of Faerie, this one set in Faerie and launching a new trilogy.

Jude—broken, rebuilt, fueled by anger and a sense of powerlessness—has never recovered from watching her adoptive Faerie father murder her parents. Human Jude (whose brown hair curls and whose skin color is never described) both hates and loves Madoc, whose murderous nature is true to his Faerie self and who in his way loves her. Brought up among the Gentry, Jude has never felt at ease, but after a decade, Faerie has become her home despite the constant peril. Black’s latest looks at nature and nurture and spins a tale of court intrigue, bloodshed, and a truly messed-up relationship that might be the saving of Jude and the titular prince, who, like Jude, has been shaped by the cruelties of others. Fierce and observant Jude is utterly unaware of the currents that swirl around her. She fights, plots, even murders enemies, but she must also navigate her relationship with her complex family (human, Faerie, and mixed). This is a heady blend of Faerie lore, high fantasy, and high school drama, dripping with description that brings the dangerous but tempting world of Faerie to life.

Black is building a complex mythology; now is a great time to tune in. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-31027-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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