There are only a few more weeks until the Cybils winners will be announced! I’ve been reading finalists in other categories trying to prepare, and I’ll try to get reviews of those up soon. In the meantime, here are more of the middle grade speculative fiction nominees that I enjoyed, including the last of the finalists.
Moon Rising. Wings of Fire Book 6 by Tui Sutherland. Scholastic, 2015.
This sixth book in the series starts a new sub-series, so that even though I haven’t read any of the previous books, I was still able to understand what was going on. Now that the war between the different types of dragons is over, work is underway to bring them together. The first step is to have young dragons go to school together, sharing rooms with dragons of other tribes. It’s really hard to break distrust, though, when dragons are asked to make friends with the very dragons they fought against and who killed their relatives. Our main point of view character here is Moonwatcher, a member of the hated Darkwing tribe, who was raised hidden in the rainforest and isn’t used to being around anyone at all. She has the gifts of the Darkwings that no one believes in anymore – the ability to read thoughts and have visions. This plays out as serious sensory issues – she’s immediately overwhelmed by all the dragons around her and their thoughts. Plus, will she ever make friends with her wingmates whether or not she tells them the truth about herself? Meanwhile, she’s overheard conversations about someone planning to attack the school, and the voice of an ancient, probably evil, but encouraging dragon that keeps talking in her head. I was quickly caught up in Moon’s story, and am now considering going back to the other books.
Valiant by Sarah McGuire. Egmont, 2015.
Hooray, a fairy tale retelling! The Brave Little Tailor is retold in a setting that feels like Eastern Europe in the 18th century. Saville and her borderline abusive father are journeying to the capital city, Reggen, where her father is convinced that the innovative techniques that got him banned from the local guilds will make him the king’s favorite tailor. Saville isn’t happy about any of it, but when her father has a stroke and is unable to care for himself, it’s up to her to dress as his apprentice and try to earn the king’s custom herself. She also takes in a homeless boy, Will, and trains him to help a little, taking satisfaction from knowing that her father would disapprove. Trying to survive pretending to be a boy and taking care of two people ought to have been enough, but Saville also finds herself caught up in dangerous politics when the city is attacked by the giants no one really believed were real. The king is weak, his advisors divided, and his sister being prepped for use as a mindless pawn. There’s a touch of romance, and a lot of looking at the importance of diplomacy and real listening. There’s quite a bit of violence, and between that and discussion of marriage, I’d say this is better for the older middle grade to teen crowd. Lovers of fairy tale retellings will find this right up their alley.
The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith. Putnam, 2015.
Stefan is not dealing well with the death of his mother. He’s about to leave his father, a master toymaker, and head out to be a journeyman on his own – when his uncle Christian Drosselmeyer appears, with the Moorish Royal Astronomer of Boldavia. Christian is a master clockmaker, and offers to take Stefan on and travel with him, catering to Stefan’s wish to make brand-new toys that use clockwork. But Christian isn’t his own man, either – he’s bound to find the magical Krakatook nut, which will free the Princess Purlipat, who was turned to wood by the Mouse Queen’s curse some years before. His quest will now be Stefan’s as well. Meanwhile, we also hear part of the story told from the point of the view of the travelling rat tutor who is hired to train the monstrous seven-headed son of the queen mouse – each head named after a fearsome human leader, each with its own personality. Though the tutor doesn’t really believe this can end well, he still does his best to train the prince to take over the world of men. (Take Charlotte’s warning to heart: do not read this if you’re squeamish about rodents.) This is a story inspired by the Nutcracker – very faithfully, from what I remember from my childhood reading of the original novel – but without any touch of dancing snowflakes and candies. I quite enjoyed it, and kids interested in history, machinery, and epic inter-species battles should enjoy it as well.