Amped-up action scenes and a thoughtful look at people’s breaking points make this sequel a stronger read.

SPELL STARTER

From the Caster series , Vol. 2

Even in a world with magic, quick fixes come with a cost.

In this sequel to Caster (2019), Aza Wu is again thrust into dangerous tournaments. These are backed not by the Guild but by the ambitious Saint Willow, the Lotusland gang leader. This time, however, Aza does not revel in the freedom of full magic casting; rather, she fears her uncertain control over her new, ill-gotten power and the risk of endangering herself, other fighters, and the world around her. Reluctantly working as Saint Willow’s squeezer and forced to compete nightly in these deadly games, Aza is desperate to find a way out of this predicament that will also keep her parents safe and the family business intact. Though it continues to be strong in action, this second offering spends more time exploring familial obligation, moral choices, and compromise as well as human-made (or magic-made) ecological disasters. Aza’s parents, still ignorant of their daughter’s real job, play a greater role here and are supportive of her, from her work to being interested in whatever sexuality or relationship she may lean toward. There is some diversity in characters, but the book mostly highlights Chinese culture, from Aza’s family’s tea business to the strategic and thoughtful use of romanized Cantonese phrases scattered throughout.

Amped-up action scenes and a thoughtful look at people’s breaking points make this sequel a stronger read. (Dystopian fantasy. 13-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-58951-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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The shelves are already crowded with teens-training-for-space stories; there’s no need to make room for this one.

THE FINAL SIX

From the Final Six series , Vol. 1

Teens become astronauts in record time for an inaugural space mission.

After losing his family to “the greatest flood Rome has ever known,” skilled white Italian swimmer Leo Danieli would never have expected that in his darkest moment he would be drafted by the European Space Agency to attend the International Space Training Camp, where teens will train to terraform and colonize Jupiter’s moon Europa for human settlement. California native Naomi Ardalan, a second-generation Iranian-American, has also been chosen for her expertise in science and technology. During a period of violent climate change worldwide, Earth’s governments are desperate to draft teens for a space mission for which they have only a few weeks in which to prepare. Twenty-four teen finalists, many orphaned by cataclysmic natural disasters, have been chosen from all over the world to compete for this space colonization mission. Warnings come to Leo and Naomi that there is a more sinister aspect to this mission, especially after things go tragically awry with other candidates during the training. The relationship that develops between Naomi and Leo feels forced, as if their meeting necessitates speedy deployment of a romantic cliché. The use of predictable plot devices, along with the fundamentally ludicrous premise, undermines any believability that would make a reader invest in such an elaborate space journey.

The shelves are already crowded with teens-training-for-space stories; there’s no need to make room for this one. (Science fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-265894-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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Skillfully weaves together political intrigue, complex sibling relationships, and magic.

THE IVORY KEY

From the Ivory Key Duology series , Vol. 1

Four royal siblings reunite, seeking the Ivory Key, a legendary object that could unlock an incredible source of magic and rescue their country from impending war.

For centuries, Ashoka has relied on magic to fuel its economy and protect its borders. But the magic is running out, and Vira, the newly crowned maharani, is desperate. A suspect in the murder of Lord Harish, Vira’s betrothed, shows signs of ties to the Kamala Society, a secret organization that sealed all the magic quarries when Ashokan provinces fought to control the mining trade. To unlock them and save Ashoka, Vira must retrieve the Ivory Key, but she requires the help of her three estranged siblings, who each have their own reasons for obtaining it. Vira’s twin, Ronak, wants to sell it so he can start a new life. Her half brother, Kaleb, who is accused of murdering his stepmother, the previous maharani, longs to clear his name. Her sister, Riya, who has not revealed her true identity as the rajkumaari to the Ravens, a rebel group she has joined, wishes to prove her loyalty to them. Raman’s immersive, enchanting world is rich in Indian cultural influences. Alternating points of view allow every protagonist to shine, and the epilogue told from a fifth perspective offers a tease for the duology’s next installment.

Skillfully weaves together political intrigue, complex sibling relationships, and magic. (Fantasy. 13-17)

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-358-46833-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Clarion/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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