Sometimes I write short reviews because there’s not a lot to say about the books. Today, however, I am doing my very best short reviews because I have so very, very many good books that I want to tell you about.
The Threads of Magic
by Alison Croggon
Read from library copy.
There are many plot threads as well as magical threads wound tightly in this one-volume fantasy. It starts in the city of Clarel, where street kids Pip and El find an ornate silver box with a plain-looking black lump in it. Despite the plainness of the contents, they find themselves being hunted by assassins, forced to look for help in places they would never previously have considered – including a girl, Oni, whose mother Amina is housekeeper and confidante to Princess Georgette. Georgette in turn dreams of being queen and making real change in the city, though she has been underestimated and ignored up until now. But the assassins, Georgette’s tutor, and the villains all get their own POV chapters, too. Slowly, our heroes and we learn of the evil Spectres who eat souls to take over bodies and live forever. Can a handful of kids – maybe with the help of some undercover witches – stop evil that’s been growing for centuries?
The Raven Heir
by Stephanie Burgis
Read from purchased copy.
Ebook available on Libby.
Shape-shifting Cordelia and her triplet siblings, sword-fighting Rosalind and bard Giles have grown up in a tower surrounded by a forest in a Welsh-inspired medieval kingdom. Their older brother – who remembers being held hostage for an extended period before they were born – and their sorceress mother and her friend Alys – are keeping them there to prevent them from being used as pawns in the ongoing battle for control over the Raven Crown. But of course, this safety can’t last forever, and soon Cordelia, Rosalind and Giles are on their own, trying to figure out who to trust among rival groups. Everyone is sure that one of the triplets will be the one that the Raven Crown will accept as the next ruler. As readers, we aren’t really in doubt that our point of view character will be the heir – but even as the destination is known, the journey there has unexpected twists, as well as a focus on the sibling relationships. It deals with death and sacrifice while staying entertaining and not feeling overly heavy. And after the way it ended, I am not at all sure how the story will continue.
Breaks a Kingdom
by Sangu Mandanna
Penguin Random House, 2021
Read from library copy. Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.
Kiki’s been having trouble living her life as her head is filled with “scratchy” anxiety that insists she go check on ideas she knows are ridiculous, like her mother being attacked by a goose in their kitchen. To get around it, she spends more and more time drawing pictures in her notebook, telling a story set in the magical city of Mysore, based on the real Mysore in India where her family is from, but blended with Indian legends. In her story, the once-beautiful city has been taken over by the evil demon Mahishasura and her aunt Ashwini, who in real life died at age 13, is the leader of the demon-fighting kid resistance. It’s all great fun – until Ashwini and a demon show up in her bedroom, and Ashwini says she needs Kiki’s help in the magical Mysore. Once there, she finds that her gang of kids are real people, most of them not very happy to be stuck in a dangerous life on their own. Kiki created the world to escape from her anxiety – but now having to save it is more pressure than she ever wanted. Like Healer of the Water Monster, this is a book where the main character determines pretty quickly that she’s not going to be able to win with weapons. All of these aspects, plus extra emphasis on the often-overlooked powers of girls, make this a truly winning book.
How to Save a Queendom
by Jessica Lawson
Simon & Schuster, 2021
Read from library copy.
Stub has grown up in the chicken coop behind the inn where her mother left her as a baby, serving out an “apprenticeship” to the cruel Matron Trotte and her son. She’s limited her dreams to keeping her pet chicken, Peck, alive.
Then she discovers a tiny wizard in her pocket. Orlen is – or perhaps was – the royal wizard to the current queen of the Maradon, and has accidentally shrunk himself while trying to uncover a highly-placed traitor. Now he’s bound to Stub and insists that she take him back to the capital, before the big anniversary Peace Festival, when he believes the evil queen of a neighboring queendom will try to attack. On the way, they pick up the very cautious son of a rover, who has maps they need. He may not be comfortable sleeping on the ground, but as an apprentice cook, he’ll make delicious meals for them out of whatever they can find. But when they get to the capital, they discover that things are even more complicated than they thought. This is mostly a save-the-queendom adventure, but the plot has enough intricacy to be interesting, there’s plenty of humor, and Stub also has a nice journey towards finding a better home and sense of self.
by Karla Arenas Valenti
Read from library copy.
Carla’s biggest problem is not burning her mother’s famous hot chocolate at the tiny restaurant in what used to be their living room in Oaxaca, Mexico. Life and Death (who prefers to be called Catrina) are two great friends who meet up in the mortal world only once in a while to play a game of lotería, letting fate pick the mortal who will follow one of them afterwards. This time, fate chooses Carla, who has no idea what is happening as adventures and tragedies begin piling up around her. Still, she’s determined to make her own choices and save her beloved younger cousin Esteban. At the same time, Life and Catrina debate the existence of free will as their lotería cards fill up and as Carla keeps running into the things named on the cards just pulled. Carla’s adventures take her to many wonders in Mexico, as well as the magical kingdom of Las Pozas, filled with beauty and danger. The ending was shockingly unexpected and unsettling – making a strong case for free will by refusing to provide a straightforward happy ending. Spanish is included throughout, sometimes followed with a direct translation and sometimes with an in-context reaction that explains what was just said.
Let me know in the comments what your favorite recent fantasy adventure books are!
These books have been nominated for the Cybils award. The reviews reflect my own opinion, not that of the committee.