A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark

Information

Goodreads: A Wish in the Dark
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Official Summary

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, and inspired by Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

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Review

A Wish in the Dark has a compelling premise: a middle-grade retelling of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables set in a fantasy world, where light shines only on the “worthy.” The attempt to reimagine a classic work of literature for a younger audience, and thereby highlight inequality between the rich and the poor, is admirable. However, in the end, A Wish in the Dark lacks much of the power I would expect from a book based on one of the heart-rending stories I know. In attempting to make the material more child-friendly, the story loses something. A Wish in the Dark is a solid book with a worthy goal–but not quite the standout novel I had been led to expect.

Writing a story based on Les Misérables was always going to present challenges, as Victor Hugo’s work has a depth and a scope unmatched by many works of literature. A Wish in the Dark attempts to circumvent some of these challenges by focusing on a smaller cast of characters during a shorter period of time. It thus makes the story something that is more correctly described as “inspired by” Hugo’s work, rather than a retelling of Hugo’s work. This is all well and good, but, if the story is not going to attempt a critique of society and its morals set against a stunning historical backdrop, I at least want it to move me with its depictions of its characters. I want it to make me feel the injustice of it all through their eyes. A Wish in the Dark failed to do that.

Presumably because A Wish in the Dark is meant for children, the story often shies away from describing poverty, injustice, and their effects in too much detail. Readers are given pertinent information about the gap between the rich and the poor: the poor have no schools, the poor are herded into prisons where they lack enough to eat, the poor cannot even afford better lights for their homes. However, much of these is described very broadly; I never really felt their hunger, their anger, or their despair. The characters do not burn for justice like Enjorlas and his idealistic followers. The tone is not really clinical but, rather, kind of just describing what is.

Since much of what is in the book also is in the real world, I would hope that the story would inspire some passion around the injustices shown. But, frankly, once our hero Pong escapes to prison and to safety, it is relatively easy to forget that others suffer. Even when he is in hiding, he is cared for better than many, and a few scenes of people begging in the streets do not quite illustrate the full extent of the injustice that is presumably being carried out in the city. Also disappointingly, the book suggests that injustice is solved fairly easily by peaceful protest, love, and democracy. While I recognize that children’s books tend to be upbeat and hopeful in an attempt to inspire people to change instead of making them despair, the too-easy ending feels a bit dishonest.

Critiquing a book with a laudable goal–to expose the gap between the poor and the rich–is difficult. It is natural to want to praise any story that discusses injustice and that seeks to make readers more aware of important social issues. However, though I liked the characters in a general way and though I wished them well, I do not know that pointing out that the poor suffer in many ways more than the rich is enough to make a story amazing. A Wish in the Dark is a fine fantasy. A solid middle-grade novel. It is not, however, a book I will likely want to read again. It lacks the depth and insight I would want from a book attempting to tackle difficult issues.

3 Stars

How to Save a Queendom by Jessica Lawson (ARC Review)

How to Save a Queendom

Information

Goodreads: How to Save a Queendom
Series: None
Source: ARC from publisher
Published: April 20, 2020

Official Summary

From critically acclaimed author Jessica Lawson comes a whimsical fantasy about an orphaned twelve-year-old girl who is called upon to save her queendom when she finds a tiny wizard in her pocket.

Life’s never been kind to twelve-year-old Stub. Orphaned and left in the care of the cruel Matron Tratte, Stub’s learned that the best way to keep the peace is to do as she’s told. No matter that she’s bullied and that her only friend is her pet chicken, Peck, Stub’s accepted the fact that her life just isn’t made for adventure. Then she finds a tiny wizard in her pocket.

Orlen, the royal wizard to Maradon’s queen, is magically bound to Stub. And it’s up to her to ferry Orlen back to Maradon Cross, the country’s capital, or else the delicate peace of the queendom will crumble under the power of an evil wizard queen. Suddenly Stub’s unexciting life is chock-full of adventure. But how can one orphan girl possibly save the entire queendom?

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Review

How to Save a Queendom by Jessica Lawson is a rollicking middle-grade adventure that takes all the best parts of a fantasy quest, mixes them up, and presents a story sure to enthrall its readers. From the moment twelve-year-old orphan Stub appears, bullied by the tavern owner she’s apprenticed to, and finding solace only in her pet chicken, readers will know that this is a quirky tale that means to entertain. The appearance of a tiny, grumpy wizard, magically bound to Stub by accident, along with a chef’s apprentice who can’t seem to stop talking about food, only add to the delightful chaos. Will all three be forced to go on a journey together across the nation to stop an evil queen from taking over? Of course!

There’s something kind of irreverent about the way Lawson takes fantasy staples–orphans, wizards, dragons, and evil regents–and puts her own spin on them. The orphan holds no special secret powers, but she is plucky. The wizard is small and impotent. The dragon is somewhat beside the point. And the evil regent almost gets our pity. But, somehow, it all works. The presence of the tropes gives readers something familiar to hold on to. But the way Lawson subverts them makes the book feel not only unpredictable, but also fun.

The characters, along with the plot, are sure to delight. Readers will be sure to fall in love with the protagonist, Stub, who is forced to live in a chicken coop and put up with her mistress’s abuse. Over time, however, Stub finds her strength by learning to trust others and allow them to help her. She is joined by Orlen, a somewhat cranky wizard who is not always as good at spellcraft as he would like everyone to think, but who proves lovable nonetheless. And by Beamas, who provides much of the comic relief by babbling on about recipes and spices when he ought to be thinking about how is life is in danger. Together, they make an unlikely team to save a queendom, but, somehow, it works.

Readers who enjoy middle grade fantasy, fantasy quests, and quirky humor will be sure to love How to Save a Queendom. Its irreverent take on genre tropes, along with its unlikely heroes, prove an irresistibly charming combination.

4 stars

Brightly Woven: The Graphic Novel by Alexandra Bracken, Leigh Dragoon, & Kit Seaton

Brightly Woven The Graphic Novel

Information

Goodreads: Brightly Woven: The Graphic Novel
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Sydelle Mirabil is content enough in her village, until the wizard Wayland North appears. He claims to have evidence that will stop a war, but he needs to get to the capital before war is declared. He takes Sydelle as his navigator, and to help repair his magical cloaks. But it may be Sydelle who saves them all.

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Review

Brightly Woven: The Graphic Novel adapts the novel of the same name, presenting the story in vibrant colors sure to appeal to tweens who enjoy reading comics. However, despite the appealing illustrations, the book lacks a cohesive plot, as well as any meaningful character development or worldbuilding. Ultimately, the book is a lackluster affair, one that draws in readers with its looks, but then fails to deliver.

Details about the setting of Brightly Woven are vague from the start, which features Sydelle gathering plants in a remote village, then meeting the wizard Wayland North. North announces to all and sundry that he has important intelligence exonerating a foreign nation from an evil deed that will bring their nations to war. However, he has to get to the capital in a few days’ time, but he is being pursued by enemies. He makes lots of explanations about how the mail service and messengers are untrustworthy (though he just trusted an entire random village with his secret and his life) to ensure that he has to go himself, on foot. Also, apparently he can teleport, but apparently conveniently not that far. At any rate, this almost all the worldbuilding readers are going to get for the rest of the novel, until they learn that somehow colorful cloaks are magical (what different colors mean and how they work remains unexplained) and there is a wizard organization (which is maybe kind of evil, but maybe not. Who knows.). In the end, it feels like Sydelle and North are moving through an empty wasteland, devoid of any meaningful geography, culture, or politics.

The character development does little to help save the story. Sydelle is pretty much a blank slate for readers to maybe project themselves onto. At any rate, she is a kind of standard small town girl who is swept up into a greater adventure. Sassy and smart. Presumably in love with the moody, mysterious wizard who took her travelling. But what her hopes and dreams, her fears, her motivations are readers will never know. Ultimately, she turns into a deux ex machina in a confusing and unexpected turn of events that rush by too quickly to feel meaningful.

North is perhaps worse than Sydelle in terms of character development. Readers mainly know that he is a wizard with a sad backstory pertaining to his father, and he has a teen wizard nemesis. How exactly all of this affects him or why readers should care remains unexplained. He also has magic, but what kind and how it works is a mystery. Sydelle appears to be in love with him, but readers may have to question why since he is so amazingly bland.

Ultimately, Brightly Woven left me confused and disappointed, unsure of what I had just read. The plot makes very little sense. The worldbuilding is all but nonexistent. The character development is severely lacking. The ending does leave room for a sequel, but it seems questionable how many readers will be interested in continuing reading a series where nothing is explained. The illustrations are well done, but they are not enough to salvage the work.

2 star review

Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron

Maya and the Rising Dark

Information

Goodreads: Maya and the Rising Dark
Series: Maya #1
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Official Summary

Twelve-year-old Maya’s search for her missing father puts her at the center of a battle between our world, the Orishas, and the mysterious and sinister Dark world.

Twelve-year-old Maya is the only one in her South Side Chicago neighborhood who witnesses weird occurrences like werehyenas stalking the streets at night and a scary man made of shadows plaguing her dreams. Her friends try to find an explanation—perhaps a ghost uprising or a lunchroom experiment gone awry. But to Maya, it sounds like something from one of Papa’s stories or her favorite comics.

When Papa goes missing, Maya is thrust into a world both strange and familiar as she uncovers the truth. Her father is the guardian of the veil between our world and the Dark—where an army led by the Lord of Shadows, the man from Maya’s nightmares, awaits. Maya herself is a godling, half orisha and half human, and her neighborhood is a safe haven. But now that the veil is failing, the Lord of Shadows is determined to destroy the human world and it’s up to Maya to stop him. She just hopes she can do it in time to attend Comic-Con before summer’s over.

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Review

Maya and the Rising Dark is a fun fantasy adventure that will appeal to fans of middle-grade series based on mythology, such as the Tristan Strong or the Percy Jackson books. Maya is a twelve-year-old girl who begins seeing mysterious events no one else seems to have noticed. Then, her father disappears, and she learns that he is at the center of an age-old war between the orishas and the Lord of Shadows. Now, it is up to Maya, half orisha and half human, to enter the world of the Dark and save her father. Episodic in nature, the book is packed with encounters with supernatural creatures that will keep readers engaged. Maya and the Rising Dark is a solid offering that will entertain its target demographic.

Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of Maya and the Rising Dark is that it is based on West African mythology, so readers get to learn more about the spirits known as orishas. In this book, it is explained that the orishas are spirits, some of whom have taken on human form, and now guard the human world. Each orisha is associated with a specific aspect or trait, and Maya gets to meet a number of them as she begins the search for her father. However, some of the supernatural creatures in this mythology are more malevolent, and they provide much of the action as Maya encounters them and must figure out how to fight them or escape.

In this way, Maya and the Rising Dark feels a little bit like The Hobbit, as it is episodic in nature, with Maya traveling into the Dark and across the human world, and meeting a number of challenges (many unrelated to her quest) until she finally reaches her end destination. This writing strategy keeps readers engaged since the action never flags. Even when Maya seems safe from her enemies, a dangerous creature might still be lurking about, ready to take unsuspecting travelers back to camp for dinner. Maya and her poor friends never get a rest!

Ultimately, for me as an adult, the book does feel a little unsatisfying. The characters are not strongly drawn, mainly being delineated by one defining feature (Frankie likes science, Eli likes ghosts, etc.) And the writing style somehow keeps the episodes of the narrative from feeling fully cohesive. Finally, Maya achieves her supernatural powers far too easily and is able to defeat a terrible power even the orishas fear with no prior training. However, I recognize that this book is written for a middle grade audience, one who already devours this type of book, and they will probably enjoy it a lot more than I.

Maya and the Rising Dark delightfully incorporates West African mythology into an action-packed narrative that will delight readers looking for another book in the vein of the Rick Riordan Presents books. Its episodic nature, which presents a number of supernatural perils Maya and her friends must face, will keep readers hooked.

3 Stars

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: The Hatmakers
Series: None (yet)
Source: ARC from publisher
Published: February 2021

Official Summary

Cordelia comes from a long line of magical milliners, who weave alchemy and enchantment into every hat. In Cordelia’s world, Making – crafting items such as hats, cloaks, watches, boots and gloves from magical ingredients – is a rare and ancient skill, and only a few special Maker families remain.

When Cordelia’s father Prospero and his ship, the Jolly Bonnet, are lost at sea during a mission to collect hat ingredients, Cordelia is determined to find him. But Uncle Tiberius and Aunt Ariadne have no time to help the littlest Hatmaker, for an ancient rivalry between the Maker families is threatening to surface. Worse, someone seems to be using Maker magic to start a war.

It’s up to Cordelia to find out who, and why . . .

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Review

The Hatmakers is pure middle-grade magic. Set in an alternate England where five guilds create powerful artifacts that can influence a person’s behavior or even the fate of the nation, The Hatmakers draws readers into a spellbinding story where magic and science are now at odds. For years, the skills of the Makers were high demand, but new advances have made their work seem silly (to some) or even downright dangerous. Now Cordelia, an apprentice Hatmaker, must fight to remind England of the importance of the Maker traditions.

Cordelia is a suitably spunky heroine, one who will immediately engage the sympathies of the readers as she sets out to find her (supposedly dead) father and to rescue the king of England from a dastardly plot meant to draw the nation into war with France. The adults in Cordelia’s life may love her, but they certainly do not trust her instincts, or her ability to fight the mysterious foe who has been stealing Maker items. This, however, only draws out Cordelia’s strengths, showing how devoted she is to her convictions and how willing she is to trust in herself when no one else will. Readers will cheer her own as she repeatedly rushes into danger, always with the good of others foremost in her mind.

Cordelia’s world is also gripping. The concept of guilds who create magical articles that can change a person, making them more outgoing, loving, intelligent, etc. feels very original and is used to great effect. At times, Maker items are used for Very Important business, such as state negotiations. Other times, however, private individuals may ask for something simple, like a hat that will cure stage fright. The book shows with humor how such a request can easily go wrong, if the Hatmaker is not well-versed in their craft! This magic system, combined with a historical (fantasy) setting makes the book an engaging read.

The Hatmakers is an enchanting, whimsical tale sure to delight fans of middle-grade fantasy. Its original premise, richly-drawn world, and sympathetic protagonist make it a sure win for readers of all ages. The only trouble with the book? It needs a sequel right away!

5 stars

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones

Information

Goodreads: Beetle and the Hollowbones
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

Beetle longs more than anything to be a sorcerer, but her grandmother keeps her practicing goblin magic. So Beetle is excited when her old friend Kat comes back to town after attending a school for sorcery. But Kat’s aunt has plans to tear down the local mall–the place where Beetle’s best friend Blob Ghost is tied to for eternity. Now Beetle and Kat have three days to figure out how to release Blob Ghost before they are destroyed forever.

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Review

Beetle & the Hollowbones is a beautifully-drawn graphic novel that evokes a spooky, autumnal feeling even as it tells a feel-good story about finding one’s self and standing by one’s friends. The deep orange and blue hues draw readers into Beetle’s Halloween-esque world, a world where goblins, skeletons, and ghosts all mingle–sometimes doing things as normal as going to the mall, sometimes fighting each other with magic for survival. Readers who enjoy middle-grade fantasy comics will love Beetle & the Hollowbones.

The juxtaposition between the everyday and the macabre is part of what makes this story so unique. Our heroine Beetle is a goblin who wants to perform sorcery, but she can’t attend school and her grandmother is committed to teaching her goblin magic instead. Beetle spends most of days hanging out at the local mall, where her friend Blob Ghost lives. They do things any teenager would do, window shopping, getting snacks, and so on–but always with a slightly spooky twist that makes it fun to see what will happen to Beetle and Blob Ghost next. It is only when Blob Ghost’s existence is threatened by the demolition of the mall that Beetle and her friends have to band together to figure out what is keeping Blob Ghost from leaving.

The actual plot of the book is somewhat simple. Even the reasons for the destruction of the mall remain nebulous–maybe something to do with family heritage, maybe a family secret that must remain hidden. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Blob Ghost is in danger and Beetle would do anything to help her cute, shape-shifting friend. Their relationship lies at the heart of the story, along with Beetle’s friendship and budding romance with longtime friend Kat–an undead skeleton. They will have to work past self-doubt, jealousy, crush drama, and teenage angst to solve the problem. Their journey is both engaging and uplifting. I think readers will fall in love with all three of our heroes.

Beetle & the Hollowbones is an enchanting middle-grade novel that is darkly atmospheric but more charming than scary. Readers who like autumn and all things Halloween will want to pick this one up, but so will readers who enjoy character-driven stories with lovable protagonists and a feel-good ending. Let’s hope there is a sequel to come!

5 stars

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Hollowpox

Information

Goodreads: Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow
Series: Nevermoor #3
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Official Summary

Morrigan Crow and her friends have survived their first year as proud scholars of the elite Wundrous Society, helped bring down the nefarious Ghastly Market, and proven themselves loyal to Unit 919. Now Morrigan faces a new, exciting challenge: to master the mysterious Wretched Arts, and control the power that threatens to consume her.


But a strange and frightening illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning infected Wunimals into mindless, vicious Unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. And with the city she loves in a state of fear, Morrigan quickly realizes it’s up to her to find a cure for the Hollowpox, even if it will put her – and everyone in Nevermoor – in more danger than she ever imagined.

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Review

I cannot say enough good things about the Nevermoor series. Book one captured me with its lovable characters, its action-packed plot, and its whimsical and magical world. Each book in the series has built upon the last, keeping the same magic, but revealing new aspects of the world, so that every installment has felt fresh yet familiar. Hollowpox once again works its charms to invite readers into a land where seemingly anything can happen. But, though danger goes hand-in-hand with wonder, readers know that our bold protagonist Morrigan can handle anything thrown at her, with the help of her friends. Readers who have loved the Nevermoor series thus far will not want to wait to pick up a copy of Hollowpox.

Part of the challenge of a series is to keep writing books that do not repeat themselves, but still seem interesting and worthwhile. Hollowpox rises to that challenge. Jessica Townsend effortlessly manages to keep revealing things about Morrigan’s world that are new and novel, but also seem fitting. In this third book, readers get to watch Morrigan try to grow into her power, even though her own school and classmates fear it. The concept of “ghostly hours” neatly solves the problems of Morrigan’s lessons, while also providing pertinent background information in a way that will keep readers’ interest.

The best part of the Nevemoor books may very well be the worldbuilding. Townsend has a created a place readers will long to visit, from its tricky trap streets to the wondrous Hotel Deucalion and the breathtaking Christmas festivities. Every day in Nevermoor seems like a kind of celebration, and the book practically seems to exude joy. Presumably, Morrigan does not always feel the same way. She has to attend school and such. But…it is a magic school! And ever ordinary days in Nevermoor are really never ordinary.

Each wait between a new Nevemoor book can feel like an eternity. Having to leave its magical streets always comes as a bit of a shock. But the wonderful thing about Nevermoor is that it is always waiting, and the books never grow old. I am excited for the next installment of the series. But I know I’ll be returning to the first three books in the meantime.

5 stars

The Way to Rio Luna by Zoraida Córdova

The Way to Rio Luna

Information

Goodreads: The Way to Rio Luna
Series: Not listed as a series, but has an open ending
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

Two years ago, Danny and his older sister Pili were separated at the foster home. She said she’d see him again, but then she disappeared. Danny believes that Pili went to the magical world of Rio Luna, the land of their favorite storybook, just like they had imagined. But no one believes him. Then one day, Danny finds a magical book–and it has a map to Rio Luna. Can Danny solve the clues and be reunited with his sister?

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Review

The Way to Rio Luna is a homage to classic fantasy books, featuring familiar tropes such as the orphaned boy seeking for a home, the portal into a fantasy land, and the quest to defeat an ancient evil. It will appeal to readers who enjoy books that contain things like talking jackalopes and travel by star. However, the book admittedly does not distinguish itself among other, more original works, and I was not inspired to read the sequel, should one be published.

I believe part of my disappointment originally stemmed by the expectations raised by the cover jacket. The summary on the book made me believe that the story would involve the protagonist Danny travelling to a magical world and attempting to find his sister there. However, the book is actually just one main setup to get Danny to the world of Rio Luna. In actuality, he spends the book travelling around the globe to collect map pieces that will, ultimately, open the magic door. I’m not really a fan of quests that involve collecting multiple pieces. It feels to me more like a video game conceit than a plot line I want to read. I’m also not a fan of books that are merely preludes to another book. I would have preferred if Danny had finished his quest in this book, instead of barely starting it. So the entire conception of The Way to Rio Luna just does not match my reading preferences.

Aside from that, the merits of the story prove a bit uneven. Danny is a likeable protagonist, and he is joined by the spunky Glory and an obnoxious, yet still endearing jackalope prince. One really wants to root the misfit trio on, even if the steps of their quest prove not to be that intricate or dangerous, and even if the surprise twist at the end is not that surprising. I would say, actually, that the characters are the best part of the book. They do their best to make up for the disappointing worldbuilding, which was not detailed enough to really make me believe that Rio Luna exists.

Still, The Way to Rio Luna is a solid read. I imagine the target audience will be less critical than I, and that they will be happy to read about kids who go on dangerous adventures and find portals to other worlds. The ending is left wide open for a sequel, since the plot line in this one remains unresolved, so fans who enjoy this book can potentially look forward to another.

3 Stars

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked by Shannon Messenger

Unlocked

Information

Goodreads: Unlocked
Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities 8.5
Source: Purchased
Published: 2020

Summary

The first 500 pages of the book contain encylopedic matter about the characters, lands, animals, and vegetation of the Lost Cities, as well as some other additional content. The novella at the end follows Keefe as he wakes up trying to determine his mother’s legacy for him, and serves as a bridge from book 8 to book 9.

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Review

I wanted to love this book because I have been an enthusiastic (if not obsessed) fan ever since I read the first Keeper of the Lost Cities books. I have introduced a number of my friends to my series, and I love being able to talk over the latest installments, to argue Keefe vs. Fitz, and to guess what the next book will bring. But even I have to recognize that the series has been getting ridiculously unwieldy, in a way that some more cynical readers might even view as a blatant cash grab. Readers didn’t need book 8.5. They needed book 9 so this bloated series can finally end. And then maybe we can get a spinoff series instead of the repetitive story that never ends.

Part of my dissatisfaction with book 8.5 is how the book was marketed as a sort of must-have special edition for fans, the vague wording implying that there would be new bonus materials included. If that was not enough to lure them in, however, the marketing team clearly explained that the book also contains a novella that links books 8 and 9, so readers of the series actually have to buy this book if they want to know what is happening. Messenger famously ends every book with a dramatic cliffhanger, so of course readers would want to grab this latest installment. Unfortunately, it turns out that the novella is the one part of this volume worth having, even for hardcore fans, so releasing a 700-page volume and asking fans to hand over twenty dollars seems a little rude.

The first 150 pages of this volume are allegedly “registry files” for each of the main characters. For those who do not know, elves in the Lost Cities wear trackers around their necks so the Council always knows where they are. A registry file implies a list of times and locations, but what Messenger writes is actually a recap of the entire series so far, along with completely inappropriate musings (from adult Council members!) on things like the love lives of tweens and teens. It’s highly unofficial and a little disturbing. Not to mention boring. No one wants to start off their new book in a series with 150 pages of recap!

The rest of the bonus material is not much better. A lot of it is encyclopedia-type entries on everything from plants and animal life in the Lost Cities to lists of locations and of faculty members at Foxfire. There are lots of charts explaining what color jewels and what animal pendants everyone wears. Unfortunately, none of this information is new. It is all available in the previous eight volumes.

New content mostly includes a few personality quizzes, an Iggy coloring pages, some recipes, and some full-color portraits. A section from Keefe’s memory book with his scribblings about his feelings for Sophie will delight fans of that particular ship. But was all this worth paying for the full cover price? I don’t think so.

The novella itself is fine. It’s basically a standard Messenger plot with Keefe and Sophie worrying about things they can’t really control, Sophie going on a mission, the characters facing a dramatic climax, and then the standard cliffhanger ending. Sadly, however, this is all getting redundant, especially the “twist” ending, which is more upsetting than shocking because it is such a spectacularly bad idea. Messenger claims she had to do it this way because she needed to write Keefe’s POV, but his POV does not sound much different than Sophie’s, and I think she could have easily integrated this little interlude into book nine.

So the final verdict? This book is basically an encyclopedia of the Lost Cities that someone had the brilliant idea to attach to part of the series in the middle, instead of publishing it separately after book nine, because now fans have to buy it if they want keep up with the story. If they had published the encyclopedia on its own…well, no one needs to pay twenty dollars for information that’s already available in the other books, do they?

I have loved the Keeper of the Lost Cities series for years. But even good things have to end–especially if they want to remain good things. Publishing a book 8.5 instead of just ending the series already doesn’t really respect the fans and the time and love they have invested in Sophie’s journey. I don’t understand why Messenger doesn’t just wrap up this series and start another one in the same world. That way the story could stay somewhat intact, fans are happy that new content is still coming, and no one feels like they’re being milked for cash for a book that isn’t worth it.

2 star review

Hollowpox by Jessica Townsend

Hollowpox photo

Information

Goodreads: Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow
Series: Nevermoor #3
Source: Purchased
Published: October 15, 2020 (USA)

Official Summary

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Review

Nevermoor is such a sweepingly imaginative story that I’ve been nervous ever since that the rest of the series won’t hold up, but Townsend hasn’t disappointed me yet. The second book, Wundersmith, is also amazing, and I called it “close to sheer perfection” in my review. Maybe I wouldn’t go quite that far for Hollowpox, but this installment does have all the wonder and originality I’ve come to expect from Townsend, and I was turning the pages late into the night to see what Morrigan and her friends would do next.

One of the most impressive things about the Nevermoor series may be that the world-building gets cooler with each book. Townsend doesn’t exhaust her imagination, and she doesn’t go too over-the-top trying to introduce new things. Instead, readers learn more and more about Nevermoor, but it’s also interesting and unique and seems just right; I loved learning about the concept of “ghostly hours” in Hollowpox. (And that’s all I will say. No spoilers!)

Townsend also continues to nuance her character here, both of Morrigan and of Wunsoc as a whole. Morrigan, though happy with her life, still has anxieties related to being rejected by her family and related to being a Wundersmith, and Townsend explores that with care. She also addresses some of the questions I had about Wunsoc in book two, about their place in Nevermoor society and why they see themselves as better than others and how other citizens react to that.

We also get more of villain Ezra Squall in this book, which is fascinating, AND Townsend gives hints that there are more layers to be discovered. I can’t wait to find out more about his past, his motivations, his powers, etc. as the series continues because I’m just waiting for some sort of big reveal.

Finally, the plot is as engaging as always. It was definitely an experience to be reading a book about a new and highly contagious virus during 2020 (fitting, and yet something I’ve been avoiding so far. I’m not one of the people who picked up Contagion this year.) Watching the characters try to figure out the virus and how to deal with it, both curing and preventing the spread, probably felt different than it would have at another time. At any rate, it was interesting.

If you haven’t picked up the Nevermoor series yet, I highly recommend you do. If you’re reading the series but haven’t gotten to Hollowpox yet, I guarantee you will enjoy it!

Briana
5 stars