Book review: Tempests and Slaughter, by Tamora Pierce

Pierce, Tamora. Tempests and Slaughter. “Advance Reader’s Copy.” (The Numair Chronicles, book 1) Random House Books for Young Readers, on sale February 6, 2018. $18.99. [480] pages. ISBN  978-0-375-8471-0. “Ages 12-up.” P8Q8

Fans of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series will welcome this new prequel series about the early life of mage Numair Salmalín, once called Arram Draper.  At the age of 10, Arram becomes a student at the Imperial University of Carthak. The opening scenes with his father and uncle at the Imperial Games introduce Arram to the gladiator Musenda, who saves his life, and begin his lifelong aversion to slavery.  In many ways, Tempests and Slaughter is a fantasy tale in the form of a school story.  Arram faces classroom challenges, dormitory dominance issues, beginning friendships, and growing confidence in his own abilities. Also typical of school stories, Arram’s story focuses on new classes and growing mastery, not on extraordinary quests and tests.  In this first book of a planned trilogy, Pierce introduces major players and conflicts that tie into the later books in the world of Tortall.

Verdict: Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

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Book review: Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Nix, Garth, and Sean Williams. Have Sword, Will Travel. Scholastic, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780545259026. Ages 10-14. P7Q

Small, quicksilver Eleanor wants to be a knight, like her mother.  Odo, the miller’s son, is brawny, but has no desire to leave their small village.  However, the once mighty Silverrun River has slowed to a trickle and as the two friends fish for eels, they find a magical sword which chooses Odo as its knight, leaving Ellie to be the squire.  The two friends and the sword– Hildebrand Shining Foebiter (Biter for short)—take on the quest to free the dying river, facing and solving numerous problems along the way.

Verdict: Australian authors Nix and Williams have worked together on previous books, though Williams has not been published in the United States as often as has Garth Nix.  Have Sword, Will Travel is a solid fantasy for middle grade readers that shows both protagonists growing and changing as they accomplish their quest.  Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.  This story leaves room for sequels, so be prepared to purchase not only the first, but also subsequent titles.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Apprentice Witch, by James Nichol

Nichol, James. The Apprentice Witch. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9781338118582. 318 pages. Ages 12-16. P7Q8

After blowing up the magical testing apparatus in front of the entire school, including her arch-enemy, mean girl Gimma Alverston, apprentice witch Arianwyn Gribble accepts a continuing apprentice position in the town of Lull. Arianwyn makes new friends and begins to rebuild her confidence as she deals with various otherworldly infestations and incursions from the Great Wood.  When Gimma turns out to be the niece of Lull’s mayor and comes to Lull for an extended stay, Arianwyn has to work with her on the problems in the village.  A failed spell creates a disaster for the village just as Arianwyn’s second evaluation comes due.

Verdict: The author’s voice in this coming of age fantasy novel creates a realistic setting, real people and relationships, and real dilemmas for the new witch.  Issues of creating a new life away from home and family ring true, making this fantasy feel like a British cosy.  (I found myself looking forward to a cup of tea and a biscuit.) This book will probably not appeal to fans of dystopian fiction; it is wonderful debut novel and I am looking forward to the second book in the series.  Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries, as well as public library juvenile collections.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Apex, by Mercedes Lackey

Lackey, Mercedes. Apex. (Hunter Novels, book 3) Hyperion, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9781484707869. 295 pages. Ages 12-16. P7Q7

In the third book of Mercedes Lackey’s Hunter trilogy, Elite Hunter Joyeaux Charmand is a member of a special forces squad tasked with defending the city of Apex from the monsters and denizens of the Othersiders.  Joy’s Hounds—also denizens of Otherside—work with her to hunt and destroy the monsters attacking human homes and settlements.  Apex is also guarded by the PsiCorps, powerful psychics under the command of the politically ambitious Abigail Drift. With attacks both from within the city and from outside, the Hunter Corps are whittled down and the advent of a Folk Mage directing and controlling armies of monsters threaten to overwhelm the city.  When ex-boyfriend and PsiCorps member Josh asks Joy for help, she is at first wary of a possible trap, but instead, Josh offers information that points to a political trap aimed at her uncle and at the Elite Hunters.

Verdict: A dystopian military fantasy with a good sprinkling of political maneuvering.  Hunter, the first volume in the series, received a starred review from Kirkus, and Apex is a gripping finale to the series.  I have not read the first books in the trilogy and because the author included hints of the backstory, I was able to understand the complicated personal and political pieces from the earlier stories.  Recommended for public, middle- and high-school libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti

Sedoti, Chelsea.  As You Wish. “Advanced Readers Copy.” Sourcebooks Fire, release date January 2, 2018.  ISBN 978-1-4926-4231-2.  $17.99. 400 pages.  Ages 14 and up.  Q7P8

What would you wish for if you could wish for anything you want on the day you turn 18?  Of course there are guidelines to follow because the town would not survive if the townspeople wished for the extravagant.  Money?  The love of another?  Ms. Sedoti explores all avenues to the answer of this question; delving into the most mundane wish, but also the well thought out and meticulously planned wish.  From the main character’s, Eldon, perspective, wishing has only caused pain, not just in his family, but throughout the town.  Wishing for him isn’t the answer to his dreams, but something to be feared.

Overall I liked this book, especially the detail and thought behind the wishes wished and the aftermath.  The main character is a teenage boy with an ego problem and the issues he faces with his wish seem too philosophical for his character.  I can’t decide if it makes his character more appealing or just unbelievable.

One notable typographical error on page 10:  “But if I blow her, off she’ll launch into…” should be “But if I blow her off, she’ll launch into…”  I’m sure this will be corrected in the published version.

Verdict:  This is a well thought out story with a not so well thought out main character.

December 2017 review  by Terri Lippert.

[Editor’s note: Despite the title, this book does not seem to reference any part of The Princess Bride.  Alas.]

Book review: The Adventurer’s Guild, by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos

Clark, Zack Loran and Nick Eliopulos.  The Adventurer’s Guild.  Disney Hyperion, 2017.  ISBN 978-148478801-1.  $16.99.  306p.  Ages 9-12.  Q8P8

An easy to read fantasy novel with characters equally as easy to like!  The authors spin a unique tale with humans, elves, and dwarves who must live behind the walls of villages or they’ll be killed by the evil Dangers.  The village of Freestone is protected solely by the Adventurers Guild.  Members of the Guild are the only people allowed, and crazy enough, to go outside the walls.  The children newly recruited into the Guild all have endearing qualities, even the spoiled King’s son comes through in the end.  This is not a book that spends a lot of time on character or plot development, but is a fun book to read none the less.  This is the first book in a series and left me excited for the next book.

Verdict:  An easy read with lots of characters to like.  A great introduction to Fantasy for kids in the middle grades!

December 2017 review  by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Witchtown, by Cory Putman Oakes

Oakes, Cory Putman. Witchtown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 310 pgs. $17.99. ISBN 9780544765573. Ages 12+. P7Q6

Macie O’Sullivan and her mother Aubra have traveled around from one witch haven (places where witches can live safely) to another for most of Macie’s life, pulling scams and heists. Aubra is a natural witch, and Macie seems to be a void (a person with no magic), a fact which they hide. Macie desperately wants to settle down to a normal life in a loving community, and she think she has her mom convinced to do that after one last big theft. But things aren’t as they seem. What Aubra has told Macie all her life about her lack of magical talent isn’t true, and Aubra has some very dark secrets; she gets what she deserves in the end. There is a bit of romance, a feisty poltergeist who keeps burning down the herb shop, and some other interesting characters. I enjoyed this book, though I felt that the main characters and their motivations could have been developed more fully. I also felt like the title could have been improved- I almost didn’t pick up the book when I first saw it, largely because the title sounded simplistic.

VERDICT: Teen readers who are interested in magic and modern witches will probably like this book.

December 2017 review by Carol Schramm.