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The hero’s journey

Two girls, a boy, and a whole bunch of princes and princesses embark on captivating adventures. These four new fantasy stories for middle graders and middle schoolers feature compelling characters careening through wondrous worlds.

The Hero's Guide to Storming the CastleThey vanquished a nasty witch and saved their various realms in The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Now princes Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav are preoccupied with family and fame when a new adventure beckons. Christopher Healy’s The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, with illustrations by Todd Harris, finds Briar Rose blackmailing the League of Princes into setting off with her, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Liam’s sister Lila to steal a mystical object from the diminutive Bandit King. Add in an evil warlord with nefarious plans, loads of witty banter, plenty of action, and a cliffhanger ending to ratchet up the entertainment level. (8–12 years, HarperCollins/Walden Pond)

JinxIn Sage Blackwood’s Jinx, a cranky wizard named Simon adopts the title character and grudgingly teaches him a little magic. All is well until Simon performs a spell on Jinx that makes the boy’s ability (to see people’s emotions in colorful clouds around their heads) disappear. Jinx, aided by two new friends, seeks out Simon’s rival, an evil wizard called the Bonemaster, to regain his power. Flowing dialogue, easy character interaction, and a familiar yet original vibe and setting make the novel inviting, compelling, and ripe for future installments. (8–12 years, HarperCollins/Harper)

A Box of Gargoyles by Anne NesbetMaya thought she had vanquished her immortality-hungry nemesis Henri de Fourcroy in The Cabinet of Earths, but in A Box of Gargoyles, he casts a spell to force her to restore his vitality. Maya and her friend Valko must outwit the spell while contending with powerful forces, gargoyles…and a very bad violinist. There’s plenty of strength and charm in Anne Nesbet’s follow-up — especially in the animated, personal voice of the narrator, who seems to speak out of Maya’s own head but, at the same time, offers its own sympathetic interpretation of events. (8–12 years, HarperCollins/Harper)

Poison by Bridget ZinnSixteen-year-old potions master Kyra, the star of Bridget Zinn’s Poison, is reluctant to trust anyone, even her best friend, the future queen, Ariana. The well-crafted tale slowly reveals why Kyra shot a deadly potion at Ariana, and why, when Kyra has never missed a target, she missed that one. The author’s use of modern language in a magical setting adds to the charm; the complicated/flawed characters are realistic, and the plot twists and turns, including dramatic cliffhanger chapter endings, quick getaways, and disguises, make this a fine rollicking adventure from start to finish. (11–14 years, Hyperion)

From the April 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

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