THE SWEETEST SPELL

This sweet fairy tale takes readers to an imagined kingdom where there is no justice—and no chocolate, either.

Emmeline was born the lowest of the low in a semimedieval land. She’s a “dirt-scratcher” with a clubfoot, making her an outcast among outcasts. The dirt-scratchers grow the food for the kingdom, yet they themselves mostly starve, never allowed to leave the flatlands. But when a flood wipes them out, Emmeline drifts downriver to a middle-class area, where Owen Oak rescues her. Treated well there despite the prejudice, she learns that she and she alone has a magical ability to make delicious, rare, ultra-expensive chocolate. Once the secret gets out, danger strikes. Kidnapped, Emmeline tries to escape, while Owen tries to find her. When the dissolute, all-powerful king and queen gain control over her, Emmeline finds herself in even more serious trouble. As often occurs in traditional fairy tales, things get rough. People die; words are spoken with hatred; people are turned into slaves and required to fight to the death. The narrative moves along quickly, easily holding readers’ interest, and if the resolution relies on some deus ex machina elements, it also contains a clever twist. The story’s emphasis on freedom, or the lack thereof, and themes supporting equality stand out. With its attractive characters, especially dual narrators Emmeline and Owen, this novel has a power to charm.

Sweet indeed. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8027-2376-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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An engrossing addition to a thoughtful coming-of-age series.

AKATA WOMAN

From the Nsibidi Scripts series , Vol. 3

A Nigerian teen is pushed to otherworldly limits in search of a mystical object.

Three years after discovering her power as a Leopard, Sunny Nwazue, now 15, must embark on yet another dangerous journey. Tasked with retrieving what the Nimm women (her and Chichi’s ancestors) stole from Udide, the Great Spider Artist, Sunny and her coven—even-tempered Orlu, brash Sasha, and clever Chichi—have no choice other than to comply or risk their pasts and futures. As events are set in motion to track down Udide’s scroll, Sunny must also learn how to be one with Anyanwu, her spirit face, now that she is doubled, a rare occurrence among Leopard People. However, Anyanwu seems to disappear just when Sunny needs her most, and Sunny begins to resent something that is part of her. Over the course of the seven-day time limit Udide sets, Sunny must explore treacherous parts of the spirit world’s wilderness, a parallel Earth teeming with lush plant life and remarkable technology, and new parts of herself. Through the steadily paced, omniscient narration, Okorafor draws readers into Sunny’s compelling world—both real and imagined—making the setting as much of a character as the rest of the cast. As in the previous entries, themes of balance and accountability are woven throughout as Sunny is tested. All characters are Black.

An engrossing addition to a thoughtful coming-of-age series. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-48058-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A lushly written story with an intriguing heart.

ONCE UPON A BROKEN HEART

From the Once Upon a Broken Heart series , Vol. 1

After praying to a Fate for help, Evangeline discovers the dangerous world of magic.

When her father passes away, Evangeline is left with her cold stepmother and kind but distant stepsister, Marisol. Despite inheriting a steady trust in magic, belief in her late mother’s homeland of the mystical North (where fantastical creatures live), and philosophy of hope for the future, her dreams are dashed when Luc, her love, pledges to marry Marisol instead. Evangeline desperately prays to the Prince of Hearts, a dangerous and fickle Fate famed for his heart that is waiting to be revived by his one true love—and his potentially lethal kisses. The bargain they strike sends her on a dark and magical journey throughout the land. The writing style fluctuates from clever and original to overly verbose and often confusing in its jumble of senses. While the pervasive magic and concept of the Fates as a religious system add interest, other fantasy elements are haphazardly incorporated without enough time devoted to building a cohesive world. However, the themes of love, the power of story, family influence, and holding onto belief are well rounded and add depth. The plot contains welcome surprises, and the large cast piques curiosity; readers will wish more time was spent getting to know them. Evangeline has rose-gold hair and, like other main characters, reads as White; there is diversity among the fantasy races in this world.

A lushly written story with an intriguing heart. (map) (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26839-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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