YA magic for March 2020 Notes

These YA fantasy novels star strong and intelligent magic-wielding young women fighting to save their worlds. Read them during #HBWomensHistoryMonth — and every month.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance
by Tomi Adeyemi
High School    Holt    405 pp.
12/19    978-1-250-17099-6    $19.99

In Orïsha, where magic has recently been restored (Children of Blood and Bone, rev. 5/18), Princess Amari tries to unite the kingdom to prevent it being torn apart by the magic-using rebels called the Iyika, “the revolution.” Unfortunately, her authoritarian brother Inan — thought dead at the end of the last book — returns to reinstate the anti-magic crackdown started by their late father, and he’s backed by his mother, now a powerful magic-wielder. Zélie, the maji who worked the spell to restore magic, has her own problems summoning up her new abilities. The passion and drama in the writing are as powerful as ever, and Adeyemi has invented some distinctive new ways to deploy her gods-and-clan-based magic. A vivid setting and strong-willed characters propel the action; though Zélie’s romance with royal prince Inan crashed and burned in the previous volume, this time around the author hints at her finding love with a soft-hearted mercenary. Readers delighted by the complex, politically sophisticated kingdom of Orïsha will cheer its return in this alluring sequel. ANITA L. BURKAM

Kingdom of Souls
by Rena Barron
High School    HarperTeen    490 pp.
9/19    978-0-06-287095-7    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-287097-1    $8.99

Arrah was born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, though magic has always evaded her. But when children are abducted and omens of death appear in the market streets, Arrah doesn’t need magic to know that evil is looming. Fortified by her desire to save the children and live up to her exacting mother’s standards, Arrah trades years of her life in order to possess magic that will liberate the kingdom from the threat. When the trade is complete, she discovers that secrets lie around every corner, people are not as they seem, and gods and demons exist alongside humanity. Barron includes high-stakes reveals, breathtaking world-building, complicated female characters (who are both heroes and villains), and an ill-fated romance in her intricate fantasy novel. Narrated by Arrah, the story is fast paced, with vignettes written from other characters’ points of view breaking up the tension and adding new details to the plot. Fans of Black fantasy stories based in African traditions (e.g., Akata Witch, rev. 5/11; Children of Blood and Bone, rev. 5/18) should welcome this volume; additionally, its commitment to a story line filled with violence and harbingers of death cause the tale to teeter between fantasy and horror in innovative ways that differentiate it from others that came before. S. R. TOLIVER

The Queen of Nothing [Folk of the Air]
by Holly Black
High School    Little, Brown    293 pp.   g
11/19    978-0-316-31042-0    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-31040-6    $12.99

In a stunning act of betrayal, the High King, Cardan, exiled Jude (secretly his wife and the ostensible Queen of Faerie) to the mortal world at the end of The Wicked King (rev. 1/19). Now, at the start of this entry, Jude’s estranged twin sister, Taryn, arrives with the startling news that she has murdered her husband, and requests that Jude stand in for her during the inquest at the Faerie Court. Jude reluctantly agrees and, after sneaking back into the Faerie realm, is immediately and inexorably drawn back into the ubiquitous plotting and scheming from rival factions. Through it all, she manages to foil the traitorous designs of her foster father, Madoc; find her way toward reconciliation with Cardan; and discover a measure of happiness. Black delivers a heady mix of urban fantasy, court intrigue, and romance in the climactic book of this trilogy (which began with The Cruel Prince, rev. 1/18). JONATHAN HUNT

The Empire of Dreams
by Rae Carson
High School    Greenwillow    442 pp.    g
4/20    978-0-06-269190-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-269192-7    $10.99

Set in the world of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, this engrossing fantasy follows two threads about protagonist Red. In the present, the teenager is devastated when her planned adoption by her guardian the Empress is sabotaged. She embarks on a high-stakes quest to become the first female recruit in the prestigious Royal Guard. Meanwhile, in a retrospective thread, six-year-old Red escapes her mother’s murderer only to end up enslaved to various tradespeople who make a tidy profit off selling her magically potent blood (a detail that helps contextualize her later behaviors consistent with PTSD). Present-day Red must navigate physically grueling training and conflicts with fellow recruits. But thanks to her leadership, an esprit de corps develops among her training companions, resulting in a closely bonded squad whose abilities face an important test at novel’s climax. Carson gives appropriate attention to the awkward moments encountered by the first female recruit in an elite fighting squad, but Red earns her place with talents and choices that will resonate with readers no matter their gender. ANITA L. BURKAM

Vow of Thieves
by Mary E. Pearson
High School    Holt    484 pp.
8/19    978-1-250-16265-6    $19.99

Jase and Kazi (from Dance of Thieves, rev. 11/18) are on their way back to Hell’s Mouth with news that Tor’s Watch is to be recognized as a kingdom and that Jase’s family, the Ballengers, are outlaws no more. Nevertheless, Kazi is nervous about being accepted by the Ballengers as Jase’s beloved, considering she had staged his capture previously, but the couple never gets the chance to deliver this news. They are attacked as they approach; Jase manages to flee, while Kazi is taken captive and thrown into prison. Without knowledge of each other’s fate, Jase and Kazi separately work through palace intrigues and battle scenes to defeat their devious, cunning enemies and achieve a happy reunion. As good as the first volume was, in many ways this one is even better. The pacing is brisker, certain characters and incidents from the previous installment take on increased significance here, and fantasy readers will welcome magic’s more prominent role. While Pearson has successfully written for a YA audience in several different genres, this particular brand of romance, adventure, and fantasy — distinguished by strong female characters and cohesively layered world-building — arguably suits her best, as fans of this duology and of the Remnant Chronicles (The Kiss of Deception, rev. 7/14, and sequels) will likely agree. JONATHAN HUNT

Bid My Soul Farewell
by Beth Revis
Middle School, High School    Razorbill/Penguin    316 pp.    g
9/19    978-1-5951-4719-6    $18.99

Newly minted necromancer Nedra (Give the Dark My Love, rev. 9/18) has only one goal — to fully restore life to her twin sister, whom she had previously attempted to raise from the dead. Meanwhile, love interest Grey allies himself with the Emperor in hopes of attaining a pardon for Nedra, who is under penalty of death for necromancy. Their encounters are romantic (even steamy), but Grey’s love for Nedra can’t overcome his distaste for her magic. The Emperor’s deviousness is greater than it seems: will Grey and Nedra resolve their differences before they each become a pawn in the Emperor’s game? The horror that fueled the first book gets dialed back a notch here, making for somewhat more comfortable reading (though still delivering substantial dismemberments and executions), while the romance and the characters’ individual struggles come to the foreground. At the end, Revis delivers a clever expansion of the premise, which ties together multiple plot threads to close the duology in unexpected and highly gratifying ways. ANITA L. BURKAM

From the March 2020 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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