3 Atmospheric Middle Grade Fantasies

The clock is ticking on the #CybilsReadDown, so as I’ve once again been reading faster than I can review, I’m going to jump back to try to finish up some of the books that I read early on in quarantine.  

The Little Grey Girl by Celine KiernanThe Little Grey Girl. Wild Magic Book 2 by Celine Kiernan. Candlewick, 2019. ISBN 978-1536201512. Read from library copy.
At the end of book one, Begone the Raggedy Witches,  Mup and her family and friends defeated the evil queen of Faerie.  Life should be better now, right?  But no one in the Glittering World really believes that she’s gone – driven into hiding, perhaps, but not really gone.  That means that the atmosphere of fear hanging over the kingdom is still there.  Mup’s mother decides that her family – including Mup’s little brother and non-magical father – need to move into the dark, cold castle.  Mup’s friend Crow is too afraid to talk to her any more, and Mam’s best friend tells her that she needs to be a strong leader- not try to transition immediately to democracy as she wants.  

Snow falls out of season and a small ghost sows fear much bigger than her tiny size.  Can Mup and Crow figure out what’s going on before it’s too late? 

There is hope at the end, but this is a look at the pain and hard work that comes after trauma, the difference between escaping the bad guys and believing that you’re safe from them, and the importance of acknowledging that pain before you can move on.  It’s very impressive that Kiernan manages to accomplish all that within the framework of a believable magic adventure, with a heroine who feels around 8 or 9, and in just over 200 pages.  It’s dark, powerful, and beautiful.  And it looks like I’m reviewing it just in time for the release of the final book, The Promise Witch.

The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao.The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao. Bloomsbury, 2019. ISBN 978-1547602001. Read from library copy.
Faryn Liu and her brother Alex have felt like outcasts in the exclusive Jade Society they were born into ever since their father disappeared.  The mission passed down for generations is training to be warriors to fight demons, but the current leadership no longer believes in demons and Faryn and Alex are now training in secret.  

But when Faryn heads out to pick up her grandfather’s medicine on Chinese New Year, she spots real demons – lots of them – and ends up using her skills.  Soon, she’s on a quest to see if she is the Heaven Breaker of legend, trying to find the hidden island of the gods before the end of Lunar New Year to prove her worth. 

This is a high-action, Rick Riordan-style plot, filled with demons pulled mostly from Chinese legend.  I don’t honestly remember many of the details of the plot, and if you like this kind of book, you’ll want to read the book yourself to discover the details. But Faryn and her brother are mixed race, and there’s a lot of fighting against the notion of purity along with battling the demons.  There’s some amount of character growth for Faryn and her small gang, with plenty of room left for a sequel.  I wanted to like this one more than I actually did, but this should be just the ticket for kids looking for more along the lines of Rick Riordan presents books like Aru Shah or Tristan Strong.  Though there’s humor and speed, the stakes are high.  

The Wolf of Cape Fen by Juliana BrandThe Wolf of Cape Fen by Juliana Brandt. Sourcebooks Young Readers, April 2020. ISBN 978-1728209616. Read from purchased copy. 

I bought this book from my local bookstore based on Charlotte’s recommendation, trying to support a middle grade fantasy author debuting during quarantine.  (I’m still feeling a little guilty that I bought from a white author, but I have purchased nine books by authors of color in the past couple of months, so my ratio is pretty good.)  

Eliza ( almost 12) has grown up on Cape Fen (where my impression was that all residents were white), and has been taking care of her little sister Winnie ever since their mother disappeared four years ago, their father being pretty useless in the kid department.  Living on Cape Fen has a lot of rules, some of them well known and other secrets.  Everyone knows that residents of Cape Fen aren’t allowed to leave. Eliza and Winnie both know to stay home after dark in the winter, when Baron Dire’s wolf roams, looking for victims, even though the wolf is only supposed to come for those who have made a bargain with Baron Dire.  They know, too, that their mother had made a bargain with Baron Dire.  But the nature of those bargains are unclear, and as the wolf starts appearing early in the season and following Winnie around, Eliza knows she has to find out about the secrets before it’s too late.  Both their birthdays are coming up soon, and people who won’t tell her anything else are telling her she needs to find out the answer before her birthday.  

Both her cousin on her mother’s side whom Eliza is forbidden to talk to and her former best friend Filemon want to help, but Eliza isn’t sure who to trust, if anyone.  The island listens every year to stories of the bargain their ancestors made in the past – living on the island forever in exchange for their dreams come true – but is it worth it?  Meanwhile, Eliza keeps finding feathers in Winnie’s hair.  

This is a story of chilly, foggy times by the sea, filled with reflections on the power and cost of dreams, and, in true fairytale fashion, the importance of knowing how to bargain with those with magic.  It’s an impressive debut.  

Though a mystery rather than a fantasy, The Treasure of Maria Mamoun by Michelle Chalfoun shares a similar New England coastal setting.

 

About Katy K.

I'm a librarian and book worm who believes that children and adults deserve great books to read.
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4 Responses to 3 Atmospheric Middle Grade Fantasies

  1. Natalie Aguirre says:

    I really enjoyed Katie Zhou’s fantasy too. I agree that it was really action-packed.

  2. Pingback: Quarantine Book Buys and State of the TBR | alibrarymama

  3. One day I will get through Begone the Raggedy Witches ^^; This trilogy sounds like the perfect read for me but twice I’ve tried the first book and then been distracted by something else. I also added The Wolf of Cape Fen to my TBR on Charlotte’s recommendation. I do love a chilly, foggy seaside tale! I’m not keen on Riordan-esque tales so I’ll probably skip The Dragon Warrior but it’s always good to be aware of such books so I can recommend them to young readers.

    • Katy K. says:

      I hope you enjoy both those first two books! And I would mostly recommend the Dragon Warrior to Riordan-style fans – we always need more of them! Even though they are also usually not my personal favorites.

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