Predictable execution hampers what could have been an intriguing exploration of the mechanics of corruption


A baffling illness threatens a fantasy land.

Ani’s up in a tree picking a vinefruit when wardens capture her. She’s done nothing wrong, but the wardens say that the red stain on her arm from the vinefruit juice is a symptom of the Scourge, a deadly, contagious, always-fatal disease. It’s clearly a pretext: before they found her, Ani heard them mention their assignment to “come get” several people of Ani’s ethnic group. The River People—forbidden from voting or owning property, not bathing “often enough”—are a stereotypical blend of Romany and indigenous peoples. The ruling townsfolk, on the other hand, have no specified ethnicity and seem white. The governor diagnoses Ani and her best friend, Weevil, with the Scourge and sends them to the Colony, a quarantined island from which nobody returns. (Colony wardens, oddly, seem immune to the Scourge.) Ani and Weevil play Colony rabble-rousers, resisting unfair treatment and working to untangle the governor’s statement that “River People are the Scourge.” Nielsen provides two major plot twists, and both are robust and horrifying in content; however, the method and pace of divulging them are meandering and vague, lacking punch. Characters are stock, and the prose sometimes overexplains, even stretching beyond Ani’s first-person voice to reveal other characters’ emotions.

Predictable execution hampers what could have been an intriguing exploration of the mechanics of corruption . (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-68245-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula.


In honor of its 25th anniversary, a Disney Halloween horror/comedy film gets a sequel to go with its original novelization.

Three Salem witches hanged in 1693 for stealing a child’s life force are revived in 1993 when 16-year-old new kid Max completes a spell by lighting a magical candle (which has to be kindled by a virgin to work). Max and dazzling, popular classmate Allison have to keep said witches at bay until dawn to save all of the local children from a similar fate. Fast-forward to 2018: Poppy, daughter of Max and Allison, inadvertently works a spell that sends her parents and an aunt to hell in exchange for the gleeful witches. With help from her best friend, Travis, and classmate Isabella, on whom she has a major crush, Poppy has only hours to keep the weird sisters from working more evil. The witches, each daffier than the last, supply most of the comedy as well as plenty of menace but end up back in the infernal regions. There’s also a talking cat, a talking dog, a gaggle of costumed heroines, and an oblique reference to a certain beloved Halloween movie. Traditional Disney wholesomeness is spiced, not soured, by occasional innuendo and a big twist in the sequel. Poppy and her family are white, while Travis and Isabella are both African-American.

A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-02003-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Freeform/Disney

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last.


From the Vega Jane series , Vol. 4

The rebellion against an evil archmage and his bowler-topped minions wends its way to a climax.

Dispatching five baddies on the first two pages alone, wand-waving villain-exterminator Vega Jane gathers a motley army of fellow magicals, ghosts, and muggles—sorry, “Wugmorts”—for a final assault on Necro and his natty Maladons. As Necro repeatedly proves to be both smarter and more powerful than Vega Jane, things generally go badly for the rebels, who end up losing their hidden refuge, many of their best fighters, and even the final battle. Baldacci is plainly up on his ancient Greek theatrical conventions, however; just as all hope is lost, a divinity literally descends from the ceiling to referee a winner-take-all duel, and thanks to an earlier ritual that (she and readers learn) gives her a do-over if she’s killed (a second deus ex machina!), Vega Jane comes away with a win…not to mention an engagement ring to go with the magic one that makes her invisible and a new dog, just like the one that died heroically. Measuring up to the plot’s low bar, the narrative too reads like low-grade fanfic, being laden with references to past events, characters who only supposedly died, and such lines as “a spurt of blood shot out from my forehead,” “they started falling at a rapid number,” and “[h]is statement struck me on a number of levels.”

Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last. (glossary) (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-26393-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2019

Did you like this book?