Saigami, Vol. 1: (Re)birth by Flame by Seny

Information

Goodreads(Re)Birth by Flame
Series: Saigami #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2015, 2022

Summary

Ayumi is normal teenage girl until she finds herself in the world of Aesztrea, where people have dragons and some wield elemental powers. When Ayumi discovers she has the ability to wield fire, she decides to compete to become one of the elite Saigami warriors.

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Review

Often, very standard books prove the most difficult to review. The first volume of Saigami feels very familiar. A teenage girl does not feel like she belongs–until she finds herself in a fantasy world, where she possesses the ability to control fire. Her father is shrouded in mystery and her powers are abnormally strong. But, to help her pass the test to become an official Saigami, she has the goofy boy-next-door and his handsome, broody friend. Basically, I’ve read this book before. Several times in fact. It was never going to impress me, even though it is solid. I think teens newer to this plotline will enjoy it more, though.

I admit I do not read much manga in general because a lot of the covers I see are, frankly, off-putting. I hear good things about some series, but I simply cannot take them seriously when the female characters all have gravity-defying watermelons for busts. I know some people argue that this is “empowering,” but when these characters are designed by men and appear to cater to the male gaze, it feels objectifying to me, not empowering. So I was relieved to see this cover, where the female protagonist looks rather normal. It seemed like a book I could read and maybe even recommend, without having to wonder about the dynamics of guiding people towards teen reads that objectify girls. That was genuinely encouraging for me. So, points for having a realistic-looking protagonist who is depicted as powerful and not as an object for the male gaze.

Ayumi’s personality is realistic, as well, and I think that could draw teen readers to the series. Though she is clearly being set up as a type of Chosen One, Ayumi is still new to this world and to her powers. Consequently, she can come across as annoying and whiny as she adjusts to the Saigami lifestyle. And, that’s fair. Many people who found themselves in a world they could not understand and then had to journey into the wild and learn how to camp and sleep on the hard ground for the first time would probably whine, too. Ayumi makes up for this by having a kind heart. I think readers will want to root for her.

The plot, as stated above, feels rather bland. The artwork I had trouble following; I had no idea what was supposed to be happening in the fight scenes, and had to rely on the dialogue to (hopefully) tell me. But I think teen readers will like the dragons and the fire scenes. There are also hints of mystery surrounding Ayumi’s past and a gesture towards some potential romance and some drama as Ayumi trains to become a Saigami. While this is not a standout for me, I do think teen readers will be more generous to the story and more excited about it.

3 Stars

Claire and the Dragons by Wander Antunes

Claire and the Dragons Book Cover

Information

GoodreadsClaire and the Dragons
Series: Claire and the Dragons #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Years ago, a village elder named Lontar received a message from a spirit. If he retreated to a cave, the dragons would leave the world. If he ever exited the cave, the dragons would return. Lontar awaits the rise of the one hero who can stop the dragons. He believes it is the girl Claire. Unfortunately, the world had stopped believing in dragons.

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Review

Claire and the Dragons has an interesting premise. However, the neutral color palette, unremarkable (for me) art style, underdeveloped characters, and underdeveloped worldbuilding all make it a bit lackluster. Add in the impossibly tiny font and this is a book I struggled to get through. I like dragons, and I can imagine tween dragon lovers overlooking the flaws in this comic. For, me however, the fact that the story is so short was an absolute gift, as I am not sure I would have finished the story otherwise.

The story begins vaguely enough. Readers learn that Lontar, long ago, received a message that the world is being punished for the evils of men, but he can stop the dragon attacks by entering a cave and never leaving. If he leaves, the dragons return, so he needs to wait for a truly good person (who can kill the dragons) before he can rejoin society. This is all a bit strange. What exactly have men done to deserve this? Where did the dragons go? What are the spirits and how did they arrange the dragon disappearance? But, sure, it’s just the first few pages and I’m willing to suspend disbelief/wait for more information to be revealed. Strangely, however, this never happens.

The vague introduction is exactly how the rest of the story proceeds. Readers receive information without much clarity or explanation. Claire, we learn, is the truly good person who can save the world. Why Lontar thinks so is mystifying. Claire speaks up for others and tries to help them, but she also seems kind of like a grumpy, not-very-friendly person whose first response to being antagonized is violence. I thought a “truly good” person would try de-escalation methods first, learn about her enemies, and attempt to understand why they are lashing out so she can help. I understand that method might not work with the dragons she is supposed to face, who seem like standard monsters and aren’t anthropomorphic. But she does this with people, too.

Claire never tries to get to know anyone, so none of the characters seem fully developed. She just bounces from one adventure to another, sometimes aiding others and other times being rescued herself. It is exciting enough, but I found I did not particularly care about any of the characters, including Claire, because I did not know who they were or what drives them. Most of them do not even receive names.

Reading the minuscule font to attempt to make sense of the underdeveloped world and characters really did not seem worth it. I also was not particularly captured by the art style, so this graphic novel is just mediocre for me. The story ends quickly and seems to be set up for a few sequels, but I imagine I will have forgotten about Claire and the Dragons before they get published.

3 Stars

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

The Ogress and the Orphans Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: The Ogress and the Orphans
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Stone-in-the-Glen was once a lovely town. Then the library burned down. Soon, the school and the park are destroyed, too. The mayor, alone, can help, he says. But the neighborliness of the town disappears, too. And the Mayor claims it is because an Ogress has moved in on the edge of town. Take back the town and make the city neighborly again, the Mayor cries! The orphans know the Ogress is not to blame. But how can they make the town lovely again when everyone seems determined to ignore facts?

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Review

Once again, I think Kelly Barnhill has done a wonderful job in writing a middle grade book that will largely appeal to adults. The Ogress and the Orphans is a fable-esque fantasy clearly responding to Trump-era politics. The message–stated out loud, repeatedly, in case readers do not have the brain capacity to figure it out themselves–is that fake news and emotions sometimes trump logic and lead to evil, but a little bit of neighborliness can save the world. The world is compelling and the characters sympathetic, if overly precocious, but while I can see this book as the type to win awards, I can’t think of any actual tweens who would pick this up.

One of Barnhill’s worst flaws as a storyteller is that her works are incredibly redundant. Characters have the same conversations over and over. And her narrators–in this case, an omniscient anonymous “someone” whose identity is easily discernible from the start–like to spell out the moral of the story. Again. And again. And again. The Ogress and the Orphans has, “Be good. Do good!” as its own little mantra, interspersed with the orphans philosophizing on the nature of goodness and on the definition of “neighbor.” “Look at how one person can do good and inspire others to do good!” is also a recurring sentiment. We get it. Barnhill wants us to reject Trump-era politics, embrace diversity and immigration, and be kind to others. But we probably didn’t need almost 400 pages for that message to come across.

If one can get past the redundancy and the didacticism, there is a charming story embedded in here. One with ogres and dragons and talking animals. At times, the book has an old-school feel, and even a hint of magic. I just wish that Barnhill’s editors would have slimmed down some of the moralizing to let the story shine. I feel certain younger readers would respond to the story. I am not sure they will appreciate the preaching.

Barnhill’s books get so much attention, I believe, because adults and especially teachers, librarians, and publishers respond to the messages they promote. The Ogress and the Orphans, for instance, simplifies things a bit for children, so the bare bones story line is that the town of Stone-in-the-Glen stopped being neighborly when a wicked politician burned down the library. Books have ideas! Books have information! Give someone the right book, and they will have the right ideas (which in this case means rejecting Trumpian politics, being kind to each other, and reopening the library and the school). That’s a feel-good message for the publishing industry and for anyone who promotes books and literacy. Add in a bit more “deep” messaging about one person being able to change the world and you have an award winner!

I am truly interested, however, in how actual children respond to this book. To me, it seems obviously aimed at an adult audience. The messaging is too direct, the plot too slow, and the whole book too redundant. Even the orphans, whose precociousness might seem charming to grown-ups, might seem unrealistic or vaguely sickening to children. There is a difference between children’s books for children and children’s books adults like, and this is decidedly the latter.

3 Stars

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Information

GoodreadsThe Girl Who Drank the Moon
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Official Summary

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

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Review

I have mixed feelings about The Girl Who Drank the Moon. On the one hand, I adored many of the characters, especially the friendly swamp monster Glerk and the tiny dragon Fyrian. On the other hand, I found the story a bit overly pretty and sentimental, and thought some parts redundant. In the end, I think I enjoyed the book as much as I did primarily because I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Christina Moore, who makes the story sound absolutely magical. Left to my own devices, I fear I would have found the book a bit too sweet, with its knowing tone and parts narrated directly by an unknown mother-figure to the reader.

First things first–much of the writing in The Girl Who Drank the Moon is really beautiful, and many of the characters are vividly and lovingly drawn. I wanted to live in a place where such kind people (and monsters!) exist and work to help each other no matter what. The adorable tiny dragon Fyrian, who imagines himself a giant, was a particular favorite of mine. I also grew to love Glerk, a swamp monster who is both wise and kind, and willing to do anything for the people he cares about. The relationships made me tear up a little.

The writing of the book is a bit confusing, though. I do think, without Christina Moore’s masterful narration, I would have found the tone sickly sweet, and the repetition more infuriatingly redundant than “mystical.” But the sentimental tone and the “story narrated by a mother to her child” trick both suggest the book is written for quite young children, while the content is more mature. For instance, readers get quite a few chapters from the perspective of a mother who lost her baby and is now experiencing depression as she is imprisoned by some apparently wicked sisters. While I like books that defy convention, having an adult perspective like this is quite unusual for a middle grade book, which is typically aimed at 8-12 year-olds. As an adult, I found a mother’s depression over the loss of her child quite powerful. But I wonder what the average tween would make of it.

I do see why this is the type of book that collected awards. It combines a magical world with some pointed reflections on the power of love and the nature of family, and shows an adult perspective–something I think awards committees (full of adults) are sometimes drawn to, regardless of how the intended child audience might respond. I liked this book, as an adult. But when I think of tween readers I know who might like a slow-paced, repetitive fantasy with a lot of adult perspectives, I find myself a bit stumped. I think the book is good, but the marketing label might be wrong. Having a child protagonist does not automatically make a book a children’s book!

3 Stars

The Dragon’s Promise by Elizabeth Lim (ARC Review)

Dragon's Promise by Elizabeth Lim cover for book review

Information

Goodreads: The Dragon’s Promise
Series: Six Crimson Cranes #2
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: August 30, 2022

Official Summary

Princess Shiori made a deathbed promise to return the dragon’s pearl to its rightful owner, but keeping that promise is more dangerous than she ever imagined.

She must journey to the kingdom of dragons, navigate political intrigue among humans and dragons alike, fend off thieves who covet the pearl for themselves and will go to any lengths to get it, all while cultivating the appearance of a perfect princess to dissuade those who would see her burned at the stake for the magic that runs in her blood.

The pearl itself is no ordinary cargo; it thrums with malevolent power, jumping to Shiori’s aid one minute, and betraying her the next—threatening to shatter her family and sever the thread of fate that binds her to her true love, Takkan. It will take every ounce of strength Shiori can muster to defend the life and the love she’s fought so hard to win.

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Review

I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Lim’s work since I read Spin the Dawn, and as a sequel to Six Crimson Cranes, The Dragon’s Promise did not disappoint. It has action, adventure, vivid world building, and the strong family ties readers first saw in book one when Shiori committed herself to saving her brothers from a life as cranes.

I admit my memory of Six Crimson Cranes is a bit hazy, and it took me a while to remember all the events that had occurred previously that were relevant to this story. The Dragon’s Promise is not one of those books that effortlessly reminds readers of the plot of the books that came before, so do be aware of that. However, once I got my bearings, I was once again swept into the world Lim has created and eager to see how protagonist Shiori would fulfill her last promise to her stepmother, all while keeping herself and her entire world safe.

The pacing is a bit wild, which is something I’ve noticed about Lim’s work in general. The first third of the book probably could have been expanded into its own book, and event after evert keeps coming at Shiori and the reader. It’s certainly a roller coaster. Perhaps this is even something a lot of readers will love — unending action and twists and something always happening with hardly a break in between. I personally would have liked the pacing to be a bit more even, but it’s not a deal breaker for me, and it certainly keeps things interesting if nothing else.

I most loved the relationships Shiori has with her friends and family, and all the characters readers could have fallen in love with in Six Crimson Cranes get plenty of page time in The Dragon’s Promise. We get to see all six brothers, of course, as well as the love interest, and even Shiori’s father, who is clearly struggling with his duties as a emperor seeming to conflict with his priorities as a parent. We even learn more about Shiori’s stepmother’s past and get some insight into the decisions she made in book one. Character development is more than fulfilled, and I don’t know if Lim could have done a better job with any of the fairly large cast she has created.

Lim’s books are always a delight to read, and The Dragon’s Promise is no exception. Definitely pick it up if you enjoyed any of her other books.

Briana
4 stars

Alliana, Girl of Dragons by Julie Abe (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: Alliana, Girl of Dragons
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Publisher for Review
Publication Date: August 2, 2022

Official Summary

Once upon a time, Alliana believed in dreams and fairy tales as sweet as spun-sugar clouds. Alliana wished on shooting stars, sure that someday she and her grandmother would be able to travel to the capital city to see the queen. Then her grandmother passed away—and those dreams disappeared in a disenchanted puff.

Now Alliana’s forced to attend to the whims of her wicked stepmother—with long days of cleaning her stepfamily’s inn as her skin burns raw or staying up until the crack of dawn to embroider her stepsister’s ball gowns. Until she meets two beings who change her life forever—the first is a young nightdragon who Alliana discovers she can magically talk to. And the second is Nela, a young witch.

Nela needs Alliana’s help navigating the mysterious abyss, filled with dangerous beasts, a place Alliana knows by heart. Alliana sees Nela’s request as a chance to break free of her stepmother’s shadow and to seize a chance at a life she’s barely dared to hope for—but there’s a risk. If caught, Alliana will be stuck working for her stepmother for the rest of her life. Can Alliana truly make wisps of dreams into her own, better-than-a-fairy-tale happily ever after?

Inspired by the Japanese Cinderella story and set in the same world as the Eva Evergreen series, this story can be read as a standalone.

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Alliana, Girl of Dragons is a cute story inspired by “Cinderella” that will have readers cheering for Alliana as she strives to follow her dreams when few people around her seem to believe in her, and when she has so few resources to make them come true. There are no princes here, and it isn’t a love story, but rather a tale of using your talents and finding the courage to help make your happily ever after come true.

I enjoyed this twist on the classic fairy tale plot, though “enjoyed” is maybe not the right word since I always feel absolutely horrible for the “Cinderella” characters as they get mistreated and everything seems lost for them. I kind of cringe through all the meanness of the other characters and can’t wait for things to start changing for the protagonist and good things to happen! To that end, I liked that protagonist Alliana doesn’t start completely alone; her grandmother is in her corner, and though she can’t really protect Alliana from her cruel stepfamily, she is a ray of light and hope, and Alliana and the readers know they can rely on her to bring some kindness into the story. I also loved the implications that family is not formed just from blood ties; your family is those you choose to love.

Adding dragons to the story is also an interesting touch, though I admit there were fewer dragon scenes than I was imagining based on the summary of the book. Additionally, Alliana and her nightdragon seem to bond rather quickly, and I would have liked to see a bit more natural growth, rather than an immediate foray into the dragon declaring his undying loyalty and love, which seemed to be based on very little. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized these things probably would not have been issues to me as a younger reader. If I were ten years old and reading this book, I likely would have been completely captivated and bought fully into the bond between the characters, without any questions. So I think this is going to be a win for the target audience, even if I thought, as an adult, there could be more development here.

Overall, there’s a lot to like: a strong and kind protagonist, a world filled with magic and dragons, a plot about finding yourself and working for your dreams. Young fantasy lovers will definitely find this a hit. (And it’s true you can read it as a standalone and don’t need to have read the author’s other books!)

Briana
3 Stars

The Nightsilver Promise by Annaliese Avery

The Nightsilver Promise

Information

Goodreads: The Nightsilver Promise
Series: Celestial Mechanism Cycle #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

In thirteen-year-old Paisley’s world, everyone’s lives are mapped out for them on their wrists, determined by the Celestial Mechanism. But her mother has a new theory-that people can control their own destinies. Paisley hopes this is true, because her track is running out. And when she becomes embroiled in a plot to resurrect the long-gone Great Dragons, it truly does seem like it might be the end for her.

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Review

The Nightsilver Promise by Annaliese Avery has all the trappings of a great middle grade steampunk fantasy–secret societies, lost dragons, elite warriors, a prophesied king, and a brewing war between science and magic. Despite all this, however, the book reads as stilted, the worldbuilding confused, and the characters as flat. Somehow, the ingredients do not combine to make to make a compelling read, and The Nightsilver Promise is ultimately a book I felt relieved to finish.

Exactly why the book feels so stilted is hard to define. Part of it may be the prose, but part of it may be that this book really does read a bit like a “greatest hits” list of middle-grade fantasy elements. What is a middle-grade fantasy, after all, without a clever female protagonist, a helpful apprentice, a boy destined to be king, and a street urchin who has a good heart but is currently playing for the wrong team? Then just add dragons and floating cities! Bam! Middle grade magic! The parts just do not feel integrated as whole, however–more like concepts that still need to be woven into a story.

The confusing worldbuilding does not help matters. Bits and pieces of what happened are scattered throughout. If readers are lucky (I guess), someone will sit the other characters down and give them a long speech (I mean, story) about how the world used to be in ye olden days, for background info. But there are too many shifting pieces and individuals and groups who have various loyalties. Perhaps I was the problem, and not the book, but I just could not understand how there used to be dragons and there are not anymore–except, actually there are, but only in some places (just smaller ones?). And dragons are both scoffed at and secretly loved. And the Dragon Touched are routinely dragged away to be…killed? I guess. Unless they live in the floating cities and then they can be elite warriors who guard your treasure? (Why doesn’t everyone who is Dragon Touched move? Are floating cities only for some? I do not know.) The Dark Dragon wants the Great Dragons back, and that is bad. But the Dragon Walkers are good and they also want the dragons back, except they are fighting against the Dark Dragon so maybe they want some dragons back but not the same dragons?? It’s like reading about Dante’s Italy, for goodness sake! Where people align themselves with one group that says it stands for one thing, but that thing routinely change sides because, in the end, the group is really only out for itself. Who are we rooting for and why? I have no idea.

The characters, meanwhile, add nothing to the story because they are like paper cut-outs. Feisty protagonist who is always brave and spunky and gets super powers are the end for no discernible reason. Adorable, precocious younger brother. Bumbling but sometimes useful apprentice. Elite female warrior. Street urchin who has a traumatic past and will ultimately change sides when he realizes that killing people is not really a great life choice (but for now we are supposed to feel bad he’s so conflicted about the whole murder and kidnap gig). Treacherous villain who comes out of nowhere just to keep us all on our toes. Yeah, I’ve seen this all before, and I have seen it done more effectively.

The Nightsilver Promise never really does live up to its promise. I was drawn in by the shiny cover and the promise of dragons, but the story I found is too unoriginal to captivate me. I’ll be passing on the next two books in this proposed trilogy.

2 star review

Tidesong by Wendy Xu

Tidesong Book Cover

Information

GoodreadsTidesong
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: November 2021

Summary

Sophie longs to attend the prestigious Royal Academy of Magic, but instead is sent to learn her family’s special magic from her aunt and grandmother. But all her grandmother does is assign her chores! Determined to prove her power, Sophie attempts a difficult spell–and accidentally traps a dragon in human form. Can Sophie find a way to undo her magic?

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Review

Tidesong is a gentle fantasy reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film. Young witch-in-training Sophie longs to prove herself, but her self doubt gets in the way of her ability to take direction. As a result, she creates a magical mishap that nearly results in disaster for both humans and dragons. The plot is simple, but also fast paced, so young readers can feel like they experienced a lot of action and growth in a short time.

The greatest strength of Tidesong just may be its illustrations, which are charming and sweet–and sure to appeal to the growing number of manga fans. The high stakes that are supposed to be a result of Sophie’s actions are not always effectively conveyed. However, Sophie’s emotions are–and those form the heart of the story.

Because, in the end, Tidesong is not really a book about human-dragon relationships, or magical training, or even finding one’s self. Tidesong is about a girl who seems to be experiencing anxiety, and who must learn not to listen to the voice in her head that tells her she is a failure. Every time someone offers constructive criticism, even in an encouraging and supportive way, Sophie hears that she is not good enough, and never will be. Her self-doubt is helpfully conveyed in red text boxes with jagged edges, showing struggle she experiences to believe in herself. But only by believing in herself can she undo the trouble she has caused with her magic.

Tidesong is not exactly the world’s most memorable story, or the most heartfelt. The action occurs too quickly, and so do the character arcs, to feel truly meaningful. It is, however, a sweet, feel-good book. Just the kind to cozy up with when one needs something uplifting.

Read Briana’s review of Tidesong.

3 Stars

City of Dragons: The Awakening Storm by Jaimal Yogis, Vivian Truong

Information

Goodreads: The Awakening Storm
Series: City of Dragons #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

When Grace moves to Hong Kong with her mom and new stepdad, her biggest concern is making friends at her fancy new boarding school. But when a mysterious old woman gifts her a dragon egg during a field trip, Grace discovers that the wonderful stories of dragons she heard when she was a young girl might actually be real–especially when the egg hatches overnight.

The dragon has immense powers that Grace has yet to understand. And that puts them both in danger from mysterious forces intent on abusing the dragon’s power. And now it’s up to Grace and her school friends to uncover the sinister plot threatening the entire city!

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Review

The Awakening Storm follows a familiar premise–a girl moves to a new city, then finds out she has been Chosen to save the world–but the story still feels fresh. Grace is a winning protagonist with a team full of smart–and funny–friends who have the most delightful camaraderie. Further, the inclusion of Chinese mythology adds a a beautiful layer of depth to the story, as Grace must learn more about her past in order to determine her future. I loved learning along with Grace and her friends, and I hope this is one series that continues!

In many ways, The Awakening Storm is not the most notable graphic novel to recently hit shelves. Chosen One stories certainly offer few surprises, and readers will hardly find themselves shocked by plot twists here. Fortunately, however, Grace and her friends manage to carry the story though a combination of winsome eagerness and comedic interactions. As the series progresses, it seems likely that their personalities will as well, making this team more than just the language girl, the teacher’s pet, and the tech guy.

The illustrations are possibly the highlight of the story–which perhaps is fitting for a graphic novel. The opportunity to draw upon mythology here and to include as much dragon awesomeness as possible is not wasted. Grace’s little water dragon happens to be adorable, but, in time, will no doubt be as majestic as his forebears. I love a good dragon story, so I was excited to see all the different types of dragons. Future installments no doubt will provide even more information.

Altogether, The Awakening Storm is an engaging graphic novel. It will likely perform particularly will with its target audience–tweens–who may not have read as many Chosen One stories and will be able to immerse themselves in the action without worrying about originality. I know this is a book I would have really loved when growing up.

3 Stars

Tidesong by Wendy Xu (ARC Review)

Tidesong by Wendy Xu instagram photo

Information

Goodreads: Tidesong
Series: None
Source: PR company for review
Publication Date: November 16, 2021

Official Summary

Perfect for fans of Studio Ghibli and The Tea Dragon Society, this is a magically heartwarming graphic novel about self-acceptance and friendship.

Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy—the best magic school in the realm—even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.

Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.

Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t—beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?

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Review

Tidesong by Wendy Xu is a whimsical graphic novel that has the feel of Kiki’s Delivery Service, but with dragons and a setting by the sea. The result is a story that ebbs and flows with protagonist Sophie’s struggles but ultimately will feel warm and familiar and cozy to readers.

The greatest struggle, I find, for many graphic novels is to create a complex story using limited words and space, and I do think Tidesong ultimately feels a bit sparse. There’s the main conflict of Sophie’s wanting to learn magic but then getting her magic tied up with a dragon’s and needing to sort it out so she can continue to practice for her audition for the esteemed magic academy she wants to attend, and there are side plots about Sophie’s family and Sophie’s own inner turmoil. It’s simply not as developed as I’d expect it all to be if the story were told in novel form. However, I don’t think it this will be an issue for the target audience of middle grade readers. As a child, I often imagined fuller stories into the books I read and was surprised to find as an adult that many of the books I loved so much seemed so short and simple. So I think young readers will absolutely fall in love with Tidesong and its world.

And the world has a lot to offer. In a brief space, and with the help of her gorgeous illustrations, Xu brings readers to a seaside town where Sophie’s family works magic and consorts with dragons. You can practically smell the salty air on the pages. I love the idea that Sophie’s magic is tied to water and that her family has a history of special magical traditions they have passed through the ages.

Finally, Xu ensures each character in the book has an arc, from Sophie who has to deal with learning magic in ways she didn’t expect, to Lir who has to come to terms with his memory loss and family problems, to Sophie’s extended family members who need to learn to let go of the past in order to truly see the present. The journey for each of them has up and downs but is a joy for readers to watch.

Tidesong is a book that is sure to delight readers and have them hoping Xu will return to this world with a sequel.

Briana
4 stars