Code Name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall

When James Bond was still in diapers, Virginia Hall was behind enemy lines, playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Hitler’s henchmen. Did she have second thoughts after a terrible accident left her needing a wooden leg? Please. Virginia Hall was the baddest broad in any room she walked into. When the State Department proved to be a sexist boys’ club that wouldn’t let her in, she gave the finger to society’s expectations of women and became a spy for the British. This boss lady helped arm and train the French Resistance and organized sabotage missions. There was just one problem: the Butcher of Lyon, a notorious Gestapo commander, was after her. But, hey—Virginia’s classmates didn’t call her the Fighting Blade for nothing.

So how does a girl who was a pirate in the school play, spent her childhood summers milking goats, and rocked it on the hockey field end up becoming the Gestapo’s most wanted spy? Audacious, irreverent, and fiercely feminist, Code Name Badass is for anyone who doesn’t take no for an answer. 

Code Name Badass chronicles Virginia Hall’s fight against societal norms and the Nazis. Hall’s experience highlights the amazing power of perseverance, bravery, and never taking no for an answer. As part of the French Resistance movement, Hall faced constant danger. However, she never stopped fighting.  

With historical photos and excerpts from historical documents, Code Name Badass brings the women who helped win World War II to light. A list of other exceptional women spies appears at the back of the book along with a long list of resources that Demetrios utilized. While Hall’s story is motivating, Demetrios’ tone and constant reminders of sexism become a little off-putting. For example, Demetrios writes, “Dindy (Hall’s nickname) had a lot of luck. Buckets of it. She had a lot of bad luck, too, but, with one major exception, that bad luck stemmed only from the fact that she had a vagina.” 

Readers who love history, especially World War II history, will find Code Name Badass full of little-known facts. While Hall’s story is interesting, it is not for the weak of heart. The brutality of the Germans is repeatedly described, and many of Hall’s contacts lost their lives because of the Germans’ cruelty. Because of the book’s difficult vocabulary and detailed descriptions, Code Name Badass is not the book for readers looking for a light, entertaining historical fiction book. However, anyone interested in spycraft, World War II, or the women who have impacted our world will find Code Name Badass informative and interesting.  

Sexual Content 

  • While discussing Dindy’s “badassery,” Demetrios writes: “Never take no for an answer. (Unless someone says they don’t want to have sex with you, kiss you, be touched by you, etc. Then no means no.)” 
  • During wartime, women were sexually assaulted and raped as “a key strategy” to breaking down “civilians and combatants alike.”  
  • During the French occupation, Germans visited brothels. 
  • One double agent was known to keep mistresses. 
  • One female agent “got knocked up in the field” by another agent. 
  • Another female agent “drove one agent so batty with love that he literally threw himself into the Danube, intending suicide.” The agent was known to cheat on her husband with “sexy spy guys.” 

Violence 

  • During a hunting expedition, Dindy accidentally shot herself. “The shell ripped into her left foot, tearing past the skin and driving through cartilage and bone. Virginia collapsed, staring down at what had once been called a foot.” Dindy’s foot is amputated. 
  • During the Battle of France, “Bullets started flying, bombs began to drop, and shit got real. . .” Dindy helped by becoming an ambulance driver, who “saw men dying around her every day in the most horrible of ways, the soil once again being soaked with French blood.”  
  • During the battle, roads were bombed, “caring little that the dusty streets and highways and country lanes were filled with refugees who were desperate to get away from the fighting.” 
  • During World War II, “the French government would cut off your head if you had an abortion.” 
  • During the war, William Simpson was “shot down” and sustained “terrible burns and los[t] both hands.”  
  • Resistance fighters “killed a Gestapo agent, then dumped the body on the steps of [the Germans’] headquarters with a note: ‘With the compliments of British Intelligence.’”  
  • Dindy has dinner with Olivier, another spy. The restaurant’s “door crashes open, and a dozen gendarmes swam in, guns, batons, or haughty chins raised. Screams fill the café, and glass shatters as tables are overturned and precious rationed food and drink fall to the floor. . .” With help, both spies escape.
  • The Gestapo was cruel to prisoners: “Dogs let loose on prisoners, fingernails pried off, prisoners tied up with spiked handcuffs. . . Agents and Resistance fighters were often tortured for information.”  
  • Dindy’s supervisors told Dindy that a “dangerous man” had infiltrated her group. The supervisor told Dindy “she was fully authorized to have him disposed of as neatly as possible.” 
  • Two men put their family on a ship heading to England. “Their parents, wives, and Alfred’s three children all drowned when their ship . . . was torpedoed by the Germans.”  
  • The book mentions people who were killed by the Germans. Most accounts are not graphic. For example, according to Dindy, “the Germans had gotten all ancient Rome on the Resistance, skewering their bodies on iron posts as a warning to all.” 
  • Several agents were “brutally murdered in the Dachau concentration camp. . . all three were shot in the back of the head, then their bodies shoved into the camp’s crematoriums.”   
  • One man refused to do the Germans’ biddings. The man “tried to cut his throat rather than bend his will.”   
  • If Dindy and her crew saw Germans lurking around, they would kill the Germans. “One story has it that Dindy’s boys would drop German bodies in the Lignon River after they’d done away with them.” 
  • One spy was captured and “he was beaten, tortured, and then shipped off to Buchenwald, where he suffocated and died in a cattle car stuffed with more than 150 prisoners.” Another captured spy “had her front teeth knocked out and her arm broken.” 
  • Gestapo agent Klaus Barbie was brutal. “His accusers testified about Barbie raping female inmates in the presence of not only other guards, but also of the Resistance members waiting in the hallway to get tortured . . . Barbie encouraged German shepherds to chase naked women around their cells; each time the women were viciously bitten, Barbie would laugh maniacally. He beat children.” 
  • Spy Odette Sanson “underwent fourteen Gestapo interrogations. . . was held captive by the Germans for two years. . . they branded her back with a hot iron and pulled out all her toenails.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Occasionally, the book mentions adults drinking alcohol. For example, during prohibition, Dindy traveled to Europe where she could “enjoy oodles of wine.” 
  • After accidentally shooting herself, Dindy was given morphine in the hospital. 
  • Spies were given cyanide pills to use “on themselves or others.”  
  • To help agents’ stamina, they were issued amphetamines. “For Dindy, popping those bitter-tasting blue Benzedrine pills was sometimes the only way she could juggle the revolving door of agents, Resistance workers. . . who knocked on her door, day and night.” 
  • Dindy loved to drink “gin and Italians, a mix of gin and vermouth.”

Language   

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, bastard, bitch, dumbass, damn, dicked, pussy, fuck, hell, and shit. 
  • When Dindy was nineteen, she “became engaged to a complete douchebag.”  
  • Gaulle was a “total dick when it came to how he treated the foreign agents.”  
  • Klaus Barbie, an evil Gestapo agent, “was a real motherfucker.” 

Supernatural 

  • After accidentally shooting herself, Dindy “insisted until her dying day that on ‘several occasions’ her deceased father, Edwin Hall, came to visit.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army

It’s a true story of deception: Meet the top-secret Ghost Army, a group of artists and sound engineers trained to fake out the Germans in World War II with inflatable rubber tanks and loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet real-life Sergeant Victor Dowd, who served in the fight for Normandy, through France, and across the Rhine.

It’s a mystery to solve:There are clues embedded in the story’s text and illustrations, and Spycraft materials come in an envelope at the beginning of the book. Now put on your spy thinking cap and find out what happened to Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. 

Unfortunately, Victor’s story lacks action and suspense. Since there is no dialogue, Victor and the other Ghost Army members are not developed, making them easily forgettable. Even though Victor is the narrator, readers will have a hard time connecting to him because he does not have a distinct voice. Plus, the action is discussed in the past tense, which eliminates the suspense. While there are many interesting facts about the Ghost Army, readers may have difficulty staying engaged in the book because of the bland storytelling. 

Despite the book’s flaws, the format is visually appealing. Every page has a graphic element, including pictures that are drawn in black, white, and red. Plus, most of the pages have a quote set apart from the other text. These quotes are printed in large fonts and help break up the text. The graphic elements are essential because hidden in the pictures and text are clues and codes. Readers will use a cipher wheel, a Morse code, and other methods to decipher Victor’s letters. 

Readers will enjoy using the spy tools and finding clues throughout the story. However, the lack of direction makes this task difficult. In addition, many of the clues are given by putting a red film over the pictures; while the clues are fun to look at, no code-breaking is involved. Since many of the clues are difficult to understand, adults may want to read the answer key that appears at the end of the book so they can assist young readers in finding and understanding the clues.  

Readers who are excited to try and uncover secret messages will enjoy testing their spycraft skills while reading Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army. However, the lackluster story will only appeal to readers who are fans of history. If you’d like to learn more about the history of spying, sneak into the library and grab George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell and Night of Soldiers and Spies by Kate Messner. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • After D-Day, Victor looks around the beach and sees “the casualties. Wounded men lay on the runway, waiting to be airlifted to medical units. Beyond them, Vic could see the bodies of soldiers who had lost their lives on the beach.” 
  • During one of the operations, the enemy fired on the unit. “The ground in front of them shook. It felt like an earthquake. The next shell flew over their heads and hit the truck behind them. Pieces of metal flew in every direction. . .” One member of the Ghost Army “was killed when his truck was hit by shrapnel. . . Fifteen other men were wounded. Some of them lost limbs.” The illustration shows a truck being blown up.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • After setting up the fake tanks and guns, the ghost army went into the local bar and talked about their “fake” unit over beers. The illustration shows the men drinking beer. 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Rebel Spy

Rebellious Frannie Tasker knows little about the war between England and its thirteen colonies until a shipwreck off her home in Grand Bahama Island presents an unthinkable opportunity. The body of a young woman floating in the sea gives Frannie the chance to escape her brutal stepfather—and she takes it.

Assuming the identity of the drowned Emmeline Coates, Frannie is rescued by a British merchant ship and sails with the crew to New York. For the next three years, Frannie lives a lie as Miss Coates, swept up in a courtship by a dashing British lieutenant. But after witnessing the darker side of the war, she realizes that her position gives her power. Soon she’s eavesdropping on British officers, risking everything to pass information on to George Washington’s Culper spy ring as agent 355. Frannie believes in the fight for American liberty—but what will it cost her? Inspired by the true “355,” Rebel Spy is rich in historical detail and intrigue. 

Rebel Spy was inspired by the true “355,” who was part of the Culper spy ring. However, 355’s identity has never been discovered, and Frannie is completely fictional. Frannie is a complex character whose stepfather, Sewel, is a tyrant. In order to escape Sewel’s abuse, Frannie makes a desperate move and assumes a dead woman’s identity. While on a ship sailing to New York, Frannie witnesses the British soldiers’ savage nature. These events lead Frannie to believe that “tyranny was wrong. Abuse was wrong. And power ought never be misused.” Frannie struggles between her desire to live a comfortable life as a lady and her belief that no one should be forced to live under a tyrant’s rule. 

As the events of the war unfold, readers will learn how the war affected the entire world, not just the colonies. Because Frannie is living the life of a Loyalist, she becomes friends with many people who believe the Rebels deserve their fate. While the cruelties of war are not glossed over, many of the Loyalists and British soldiers were good people fighting for what they believed was right. However, Frannie helps the Rebel cause because she is convinced that, “Access to life, liberty, and happiness should be equal to all. We should all have a say in deciding our own fates.” Even so, Frannie points out that women will not have this ability even if the Rebels win the war. Instead, they are controlled by their fathers or husbands. 

While Frannie’s story is interesting, she is slightly self-absorbed and doesn’t think about how her actions will impact others. For example, Frannie allows Duncan, a British officer, to court her and she has every intention of marrying him. Frannie claims to care for Duncan, but she often spies on Duncan and relays important information to the Rebels. Frannie never considers how her actions will affect Duncan. Since Frannie’s life is full of lies and deceit, she does not always come across as a sympathetic character.  

Full of danger, suspense, and interesting facts about the Revolutionary War, Rebel Spy will please readers who enjoy historical fiction. While Frannie is not necessarily a relatable character, readers will empathize with her struggle as a young woman living in colonial America. From Frannie’s experiences, readers will learn that “reading will strengthen your expression. Words have power. Learn them and that power becomes yours.” To learn more about how women played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War, check out Susanna’s Midnight Ride by Libby Carty McNamee. 

Sexual Content 

  • When Frannie was a child, her mother was falsely accused of “having relations with men—some of them enslaved men—and she became a woman of ill fame. . . People crossed the road when they saw her. They hissed ‘filthy strumpet’ and ‘bloody doxy.’ They threw eggs and rubbish at our shop.” In order to survive, Frannie’s mother ended up “doing just what she’d been accused of.”  
  • The captain of the ship “brought the shore’s enjoyment to the Ambrosia—the ‘shore’s enjoyments’ being libations and women.” 
  • While sailing toward the colonies, Frannie meets a man. After dancing, Frannie “threw my arms around his neck, and kissed him. Asa pulled me in tight, his lips parting, his tongue sweeping against mine, and suddenly time disappeared. There was nothing beyond our mouths, gently searching.”  
  • On a different night, Frannie and Asa again kiss. Frannie often gets distracted by “Asa’s lips, which turned me liquid, and his chest, which was a perfect place for me to rest my head.” 
  • Frannie goes out on a midnight errand and sees “brothels and molly houses—brothels catering to men who favored men. Places where the orphaned and destitute often ended up. Where I might’ve ended up, if not for Miss Coates.” 
  • After a servant, Malcom, and Frannie are out most of the night, Malcom’s mother sees them. Malcom’s mother assumes they “snuck away to—” Malcom and Frannie do not correct his mother’s assumption because “the truth is. . . well, it’s worse.” 
  • Frannie’s guardian has arranged for her to court Lieutenant Duncan. After a brief conversation with him, Frannie felt “a velvety heat spreading through me. One thing I couldn’t deny: my body knew exactly how it felt about Lieutenant Duncan.” 
  • The British officers would board with the colonists. However, the officers were less than kind. One woman said, “A girl of barely twenty was got with child by a redcoat who breaks bread with her and her husband every night. Another has been told she will never bear children—she was savaged by five men, redcoats all.”  
  • Frannie is attracted to Duncan, who is courting her. When he leaned close to her, “his lips brushed my cheek, sending waves of heat down my center. He had yet to kiss me. I was so desperate for it to happen. . .” 
  • When Duncan kisses Frannie for the first time, she describes, “He was perfect. His kisses gentle, soft, warm. Desire struck me, and I stepped closer and clutched his arm.” 
  • Frannie gets upset that Asa isn’t “fighting” for her. After a brief argument Asa “wrapped me in his arms and kissed me. Deeply. Passionately. For blissful moments, we clung to each other like we’d only breathe again if we became one.” 
  • Frannie goes to talk to another spy. When the spy goes inside, a man on the street calls, “What’s wrong with us, trollop? We got the same parts he’s got!” 
  • When Duncan gets sent away, he goes to say goodbye to Frannie. “Alone in the dim entryway, we had kissed. It felt like our mouths were discussing something complicated and trying to reach an understanding.” 

Violence 

  • After Frannie backtalks to her stepfather, Sewel, he orders Frannie to go into the ocean even though a shark is nearby. Frannie “was praying for God’s protection as I lowered myself into the water, inch by terrible inch. And crying, too, though crying only ever turned him wickeder.” 
  • Sewel is a convicted murderer. He was “fighting in a tavern over a spilt drink and kill[ed] somebody. . . By reciting a Bible verse and getting the brand, he was saved from swinging by a rope round his neck.”  
  • While out to sea, a ship gets stuck on a reef. Frannie grabs the boat’s paddles in order to go help. Sewel orders her to stop rowing. When she doesn’t, Frannie attests, “something slammed into my back. The breath drove out of me. I flew forward, cracking my head on the keel. The world flashed white and went black.” 
  • After hitting Frannie, Sewel grabs her. “He leaned down, bringing his face close to mine. I kicked and thrashed, but he held me by the neck. . . His hand shot under my shirt and squeezed, hard.” Sewel tells Frannie, “You’ll learn and you will obey me.” 
  • In order to get away from Sewel, Frannie “reached back and swung the oar with every bit of strength in me. The paddle struck Sewel between the shoulder blades with a deep thud. . . Sewel flew forward and plunged into the foamy water. He disappeared without a splash, the sea swallowing him whole.” Another boater rescues Sewel. 
  • Before Frannie’s mother died, Sewel would hit her. After Frannie’s mother dies, Sewel announces that he is going to take Frannie as his new wife.  
  • While traveling to the colonies, two sailors disagree with who is right – the British or the Rebels. The two men get into a fight. “Hackett lunged at him – so fast, a blur – but suddenly everything seemed slow, like it was happening under water. He slammed into Lane and drove him back. . . Lane and Hackett grappled and swung, the sounds of their blows horrible.” The men are bruised, but not seriously injured. 
  • A sailor threatens Frannie, demanding that she give him jewels. The Sailor says, “Fail me and see if ‘old buzzard’ don’t slice you open gullet to gizzard, then dance a gig on your entrails.” 
  • The British come aboard the Ambrosia and force men to join the army. When Asa refuses to volunteer, two soldiers “tacked Asa to the deck, the sound of bone and muscle against wood thunderous. Asa kept struggling even as men piled on him. Then two men slipped cudgels from their belts and swung them.” Asa is beaten until he is bloody. Then, he is “dragged off the Ambrosia.” Asa’s beating is described over a page.  
  • While out on a midnight errand, Malcolm accompanies Frannie. A man “rammed into Malcom. He flew back and crashed into the dirt.” When the man holds a knife to Malcolm’s neck, Frannie “pulled my pocket watch over my head and threw myself on the man’s back. I slammed the hard silver into his ear as I came down. He yelled and rolled away, the knife falling from his hand.” Frannie and Malcom escape. The scene is described over three pages. 
  • While in a tavern, Lieutenant Duncan takes a soldier outside and “there was a grunt. The sound of a body thudding against brick.” Lieutenant Duncan warns the soldier to watch his mouth. 
  • When Frannie’s stepfather, Sewel, finds her, he kills one of the servants, Malcom. Frannie finds his body “lying in the dirt.” Malcom’s mother “pressed her hands to his neck, trying to stop the blood that poured out of him. So much blood. It was everywhere.” Malcom dies. 
  • Frannie has a plan to meet Sewel and frame him for spying. However, when she meets him, he kidnaps her and takes her out on a skiff. In order to get away, Frannie “dove at him, aiming the knife at his neck. . . The blade sank into his shoulder. He roared with pain and swung, his fist crashing into my temple.” In retaliation, Sewel tries to strangle her. A patrol of redcoats approaches the skiff. 
  • When Sewel sees the redcoats, he shoots. “The marines fired back, raising a thunderous noise. Wood popped and shattered all around [Frannie]. The skiff shuddered and shook.” When Sewel refuses to stand down and instead grabs his rifle. The redcoats fire. “Cracks exploded into the night. His body jerked back. His shoulder tore off. His hand disappeared in a bloody spray. Other pieces of him burst and broke.” Sewel is killed and Frannie is taken prisoner. The scene with the soldiers is described over three pages. 
  • When Frannie is imprisoned on a boat, she learns that a starving prisoner was “bayoneted through the gut for trying to filch a piece of bread.” 
  • When the Rebels found a major spying for the British, the traitor is “sentenced to death by hanging.” 
  • On a rainy night, Frannie jumps off the prison ship and into the ocean. As she swam away, Frannie “sensed the bullets slicing around me, but I kept going, even when one found my calf and bit.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Frannie’s stepfather is a drunk who often drinks rum.  
  • After being found on the beach half drowned, Frannie is offered laudanum, which she refuses. However, when she is offered a drink, Frannie “drank it half down before my throat lit with burning coals. It was watered rum—and not much watered.” 
  • During meals, Frannie and other adults are served wine. Alcohol is also served at parties. 
  • When Frannie takes on Emmie’s identity, her friends celebrate Emmie’s birthday by sharing a bottle of “spirits.” The girls get drunk.  
  • When Frannie gets upset, Duncan wants her to take laudanum. She refuses it. 
  • When Duncan’s uncle gets upset, he is given laudanum to calm him down. 
  • When Duncan and Frannie get engaged, they have a celebration and drink champagne. 

Language   

  • Lord is used as an exclamation infrequently. 
  • Frannie calls a sailor an “old hellhound.” 
  • Damn is used three times. Hell is used once. 
  • A sailor says that he is his father’s “bastard.” 
  • Frannie injures a man who attacked a servant. Afterward, the man calls Frannie a bitch.  
  • Bloody is used as profanity several times. For example, a soldier says, “bloody hell.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Frannie occasionally prays. For example, when a storm is near, Frannie “saw thick clouds bunching on the horizon and whispered a quick prayer they’d stay there.” 
  • In the past, Frannie’s stepfather, Sewel, was almost killed. He said, “God looked out for drunks, fools, and sailors.” Frannie thinks, “God must’ve loved Sewel fierce ‘cause he was all three.” 
  • Sewel tells Frannie, “Lying’s a terrible sin. An abomination unto the Lord.” 
  • When Frannie sees a dead girl laying on the beach, she takes the girl’s clothes and the girl’s identity. When a sailor finds her, he says, “Unnatural, a lass surviving such a trial. God’s had a hand in this.” Someone replies, “or the devil.” 
  • After taking Emmeline Coates’ identity, Frannie “prayed for God’s forgiveness.” 
  • Frannie reads a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine, who wrote, “all men were born of equal power and no one could be born to preference. The Bible supported this notion, he wrote, which made kings and monarchies ungodly and wrong.” 
  • When Duncan reprimanded Frannie, she thinks, “it was a wife’s duty to obey. He for God and she for him. . . that was the proper order of things.” 
  • One of the servants tells Frannie, “I pray for you . . . Every night, I pray you find your place.” 

Escape from Falaise

After their plan to rescue the Prince of Gallica has gone horribly wrong, Will Treaty and his apprentice, Maddie, are being held captive at the Chateau des Falaises in Gallica. The dangerous baron, Lassigny, is intent on keeping them—and the prince—no matter what. But Will and Maddie are determined to escape.

If they ever want to return to their home, they’ll have to find ways to outwit the baron and get outside the locked tower. When friends from home endeavor to find their own way to help, it seems escape is closer than ever. But the dirty tricks of the baron are no laughing matter.

Facing dangerous threats, battles with knights, and a new and risky plot to save the prince, the odds are stacked against them. But the Rangers will use all the tools of their trade to save themselves and save the day.

Escape from Falaise concludes the story arc that began in The Missing Prince. In this installment, Horace and Halt join in the effort to free Maddie and Will. Even though the two Rangers successfully escape the castle, they go back in to finish their mission—free the Gallican prince, Giles. The story highlights the qualities of an honorable leader by using Lassigny and the Gallican king to demonstrate examples of abuse of power. The political intrigue is interesting and introduces a new twist to the Royal Ranger Series.

 One positive aspect of the story is that the Rangers go out of their way to avoid killing someone. For example, Lassigny’s guards use deadly force to try to stop Maddie and Giles from escaping the castle. Despite this, Will and Halt try to incapacitate the guards instead of killing them. Another positive aspect of the story is the camaraderie and respect among the rangers. Even though Maddie is significantly younger than Will and Halt, both men listen to her and take her opinion into consideration. Plus, they trust her to save Giles even though she must do it alone.

Readers who fell in love with the characters in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy seeing them in a new light. While the story focuses on Maddie’s role as a ranger, Halt, Horace, and Will play a major role in the story’s plot. Because the Royal Ranger Series is an extension of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series readers will want to read it before they jump into Flanagan’s companion series, the Brotherband Chronicles. If you’re looking for a book series with honorable characters who demonstrate loyalty, courage, and perseverance, all of Flanagan’s series will hit the mark.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Armand, one of the king’s senior officers, is “unpopular among the servants” because he “wasn’t above physical punishment for those who attracted his anger. He was free with his fist when it came to the male servants and had been known to lash out at some of the female staff with the short riding whip he always carried.”
  • Armand and Maddie have a duel. Maddie “let fly with two rapid shots, smashing the lead-weighted hardwood arrowhead into the heavy iron helmet. . .” During the fight, Maddie uses her arrows repeatedly. “Three massive blows slammed against Armand’s helmet, deafening him, blurring his sight and hurling him sideways to the right. . .” Maddies’ horse Bumper charges Armand’s roan “shoving him upward and sideways.” Armand falls of the horse, ending the battle.
  • To escape from captivity, Halt, Will and Maddie hide in a stable. When the stablemaster is about to see them, “an iron-hard arm clamped around his throat from behind. The stablemaster gave a short, startled gasp. . .He struggled wildly for a minute or so, but Halt’s grip was relentless, tightening further and further, cutting off the air to the man’s lungs.” When the stablemaster is unconscious, Halt ties him up.
  • While trying to leave the castle, a solider attempts to stop Halt, but his horse Tug “set his shoulder and thudded into the man, knocking the halberd from his grasp, and sending him crashing against the stone wall . . .Fortunately for the guard, he was wearing chain mail and a helmet, as his head slammed into the stonework. His eyes glazed and he slid down the wall, semiconscious.”
  • When Will and Maddie escape, Lassigny gets angry and orders someone to flog several of the soldiers.
  • Maddie sneaks into Lassigny’s castle to free Giles, who is being held captive. While they are sneaking out of the castle, Maddie uses her sling to incapacitate two guards. “The smooth, round stone slammed into the guard’s forehead . . . He gave a startled grunt, threw out his arms and crashed over. . .” Then Maddie throws a stone at the other guard. “The impact of the stone on the man’s head. . . was sickening. Like his comrade, the guard threw out his arms and collapsed backward onto the floor.” Maddie checks the men, who are unconscious but breathing.
  • When Giles is moaning in fear, Maddie “drew back a hand and slapped him hard across the cheek. Instantly, he sat up, his eyes wide-open. . . The moaning stopped.” Later, to escape, Maddie hit Giles again, knocking him unconscious.
  • As Maddie and Giles are escaping the castle, soldiers spot them. Halt shoots at the men. “Maddie saw another guard on the battlement go down.”
  • When Lassigny and his soldiers start leaving the castle, Will and Halt shoot arrows. “The results were devastation. The three riders in the front rank behind Lassigny were plucked from their saddles. Two of them lay where they fell.”
  • Lassigny challenges Horace to a “fair combat.” Lassigny charges Horace. “Lassigny, prepared to resist an upward flick, was caught unprepared for the powerful downward force of Horace’s stroke. The point of his lance was hammered violently down, so that it slammed into the ground. . .Then the lance shaft could bend no further and it shivered into splinters, and he fell, crashing down on his back.”
  • Lassigny recovers and attacks Horace with his sword. When Horace “delivered stroke after stroke,” Lassigny’s arm “was numbed by the impact and his knees buckled beneath him, forcing him to give ground.” After Lassigny gives up, Horace turns his back. Lassigny’s “face was a mask of hatred as he stepped towards Horace’s unprotected back, raising the dagger for a treacherous killing stroke. The three Rangers shot within the same heartbeat. Three arrows thudded into Lassigny, the force of the triple impact hurling him sideways.” The scene is described over five pages.
  • The king orders his brother to be executed for treason.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a meal, alcohol is served, but “Maddie didn’t drink alcohol, and Will only imbibed sparingly.”
  • At another meal, alcohol is served. “Will signaled that he would have a glass. Maddie opted for water.”
  • When Will and Maddie are being held prisoner in the castle, they are served wine.
  • When Maddie sneaks the prince out of the castle, she waits for two men to move off the stairs. The men “were sitting and passing a flask of wine back and forth.”
  • While eating with the king, wine is served.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Missing Prince

Will Treaty and his apprentice, Maddie, have been urgently summoned to Castle Araluen. When they arrive, they learn a shocking truth: the Prince of Gallica is missing—and the King of Gallica has asked for help. All reports suggest that the young prince has been taken prisoner by the dangerous and powerful Baron Joubert de Lassigny. King Duncan knows that sending troops to Gallica to rescue the prince could start a war, as could openly helping Gallica resolve internal conflict. But there’s another way to save the prince: the Ranger Corps.

Soon, Will and Maddie are on the road to rescue the missing prince, disguised as father and daughter jongleurs. Maddie will have to use her knife throwing skills to keep up her disguise, and her ranger’s apprentice training to complete the mission. But going undercover is dangerous—and the road presents its own hazards. Can she and Will use all of their talents to save the prince, or will the arrogant Baron uncover their plans and put their lives– and their kingdom– at risk?

Unlike the other books in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, The Missing Prince is missing action. For most of the story, Will and Maddie are traveling to the castle where the Prince of Gallica is being held captive. Along the way, Will and Maddie face bandits which adds excitement to the story. However, their trip drags and when the two finally reach their destination, the book suddenly ends leaving the reader wondering what will happen in the next book, Escape from Falaise.

Will and Maddie are admirable characters who willingly face danger in an attempt to free the missing prince. However, the book’s slow start focuses more on the political reasons to help the Gallican prince. In addition, Maddie’s mother is reluctant to let Maddie go on a ranger mission. Readers may quickly become bored with the political and parental aspects of the story. Despite this, fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be happy that Will Treaty plays a major role in The Missing Prince.

Some of the story’s plot feels redundant because Will again disguises himself as a jongleur. Despite this, fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy Will and Maddie’s relationship and the two working together. Plus, the conclusion has several surprises and leaves readers with several unanswered questions. Even though The Missing Prince lacks the action of other books, the cliffhanger will have readers reaching for Escape from Falaise.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • To stop a band of thieves, Will dresses like an old farmer. When the thieves see Will, they try to stop him. Will shoots an arrow and “Jem was down, rolling in agony on the ground and clutching an arrow that had transfixed his left calf.”
  • One of the bandits, Barton, tries to hit Will, who lifts the man and throws him. “Barton landed with a heavy thud, flat on his back. . . When he recovered, he found himself looking along the blade of a very sharp saxe knife, which pricked the soft skin of his throat.” Will and Maddie take the men to the local law.
  • While Will and Maddie are entertaining, thieves appear and demand everyone’s money. A young man tries to intervene, but “the bandit leader stepped in close to him and swung the butt of the crossbow so that it slammed into Simon’s forehead.” The man is injured.
  • As the thieves are celebrating their newfound wealth, the leader “held his bottle up prior to drinking from it. Will’s arrow smashed through it, showering the drunken bandit chief with wine and shattered fragments of glass, before thudding, quivering into a log lying ready by the fire.” To take down the bandit leader, Maddie “whipped the sling up and over and the lead shot hissed through the air across the clearing, striking Vincent’s skull behind the ear with an ugly thud. The bandit’s eyes glazed, and he let out a sickly little moan. . . he crashed to the forest floor, stunned.” The scene is described over four pages.
  • While Will and Maddie are restraining the bandits, “a man rose onto one knee and leveled the crossbow.” Will sees the movement and “he drew his throwing knife and sent it spinning across the clearing. . .the knife hit him in the center of his chest.”
  • While searching the castle tower for the missing prince, “a burly figure” sees Maddie. When the man grabs her, “she suddenly stepped toward him. . .she grabbed a handful of tunic, bent her legs and shoved her backside into his body.” She then knees him in the groin and runs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Will and Maddie pose as jongleurs and perform in local taverns. The customers often drink wine and ale. When they eat at the castle, ale and wine are also served.
  • A man who has been following Will and Maddie goes into a tavern and is “nursing a tankard of ale.”
  • After the thieves rob the townspeople, they hide in the forest. The eight men were “sprawled around the camp. They stole some wine from the tavern last night and they’re all drinking.” The men turn into a “nosy, drunken group.”
  • Will and Maddie see a peddler who had “casks of ale and wine.”

Language

  • A man thinks that the Gallic king is a “pompous prat.”
  • Damn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

The Angel Experiment

Meet the flock. Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, and Angel are six kids who grew up in cages as the School’s most successful test tube experiments. The School is a science lab located in Death Valley, California where the scientists—or whitecoats—experiment on children’s genes. Four years prior, Jeb Batchelder, one of the scientists and the group’s father figure, escaped with the kids and took them to a cabin in Colorado. Two years afterwards, he disappeared, leaving the kids without an adult to care for them.  

These six kids aren’t your average American children. The whitecoats had the flock’s genes spliced with avian DNA, giving them the ability to fly via physical wings attached to their backs, along with some special abilities. Max, self-named Maximum Ride, is the oldest and leader of the flock at 14 years old. She serves as a mother figure even though she is still a kid herself. Fang is four months younger than Max, a sort of second-in-command, and is usually very quiet, “like a dark shadow come to life.” Iggy is younger than Max and blind due to the scientist’s unsuccessful attempt to surgically enhance his night vision. Nudge is an 11-year-old and, according to Max, “is a great kid, but that motormouth of hers could have turned Mother Teresa into an ax murderer.” The Gasman, or Gazzy, is eight years old, named after his ability to produce very rancid farts. He can also mimic any voice or sound. Lastly, Angel is Gazzy’s intelligent six-year-old sister who has the ability to read minds. 

Suddenly, the School’s Erasers capture Angel and plan to return the rest of the flock to the School. Erasers are half-human, half-wolf mutants who are usually armed and bloodthirsty. At first, they look like male models, but they can transform into hairy beings with claws and fangs. Leading the Erasers’ hunt is Ari. The last time Max saw Ari, he was a three-year-old boy. Now he’s a grown Eraser. Terrified about going back, the flock must rescue Angel from the School without getting. However, along the way they discover new things about themselves, their pasts, and the big plans the School has in store for them. 

James Patterson tells a fascinating story filled with science, action, and kids with wings and superhuman abilities. While most of the story is told from Max’s point of view, when the flock is separated, readers get a third-person perspective from a member of each group. The changing points of view allow readers to keep up to date with everyone. Occasionally, Max also addresses the reader using the second person, adding a memoir-like tone to the novel. Max’s voice is very distinct because of her sarcastic and sassy tone. Readers can easily fall in love with everyone in the flock and look forward to joining them in discovering who really they are. 

Some of the more prevalent themes are freedom, family, and fate. The flock hasn’t talked about their experiences and, as Max explains, they prefer to “forget when we were at the mercy of sadistic jerks in a place that’s a total nightmare and ought to be firebombed.” Because of their experiences, the flock values their freedom. In addition, the flock’s relationships show that family is not always formed through blood and that having a strong base of friends can be all the support one needs. Fate also becomes a part of this story as Jeb says, “Max, everything you’ve done, everything you are, everything you can be, is tied into your destiny.” According to Jeb, Max’s fate is predetermined, which makes her question her own autonomy and freedom.  

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment is a strong start to this sci-fi series. The chapters are short, the pacing is fast, and the language is clear and concise. These aspects of the novel match well with a large amount of action and the plot, which can be confusing. Max gives readers a warning in the beginning, saying, “If you dare to read this story, you become part of the Experiment. I know that sounds a little mysterious—but it’s all I can say right now.” So, if you decide to read this book, be prepared to become part of the flock. 

Sexual Content 

  • After a fight, Max went over to Fang to look at his injuries and, “With no warning, I leaned down and kissed his mouth, just like that.” 

Violence 

  • During one of Max’s dreams, she’s running from the Erasers. Her “arms [are] being scratched to ribbons by a briar” and her “bare feet hitting every sharp rock, rough root, [and] pointed stick.” When she comes across a drop-off on the mountain, she “let [herself] fall over the edge of the cliff.” However, one of the Erasers raises his gun and “a red dot of light appeared on my torn nightgown.”  
  • While the flock are picking strawberries, Erasers attack them. Max “landed another blow, then an Eraser punched me so hard that my head snapped around and I felt a burst of blood in my mouth.” While they fight, Max watches as “three other Erasers [were] stuffing Angel, my baby, into a rough sack. She was crying and screaming, and one of them hit her.” The fight ends when Max saw a “huge, black boot come at my head, felt my head jerk to one side, and everything went black.”  
  • After Max wakes up, she immediately thinks of Angel as “horror-filled images flashed through my mind—Angel being chased, being hurt, being killed.” 
  • In order to save Angel, the flock fly to the Humvee carrying Angel. Fang smashes a tree branch into the windshield. “The vehicle swerved, a window rolled down. A gun barrel poked out. Around [Max], trees started popping with bullets.” As a helicopter carries Angel away, Max tries to hang on to the landing skid and someone “picked up a rifle and aimed it at [Max].” 
  • The flock watches as the chopper carries Angel away. Max’s anger gets the best of her and she “made fists and punched the chunky bark of the fir tree hard, over and over, until finally, actual pain seeped into my seared consciousness. I stared at my knuckles, saw the blood, the missing skin, the splinters.” 
  • When the flock returns to the house, “Iggy howled and swept his hand across the kitchen counter, catapulting a mug through the air. It hit Fang in the side of the head.” 
  • At the School, the scientists force Angel to be experimented on. During the experiment, Angel ran on a treadmill for three and a half hours and was zapped by a “stick thing” any time she slowed down or stopped. The stick thing “jolted electricity into her, making her yelp and jump. She had four burn marks already from it.” By the end of the experiment, Angel collapses, and her feet get tangled in the treadmill belt. The scientists do a final scan of her body. As the scientists pull electrodes off of Angel’s skin, “ripping sounds and a new, searing pain on her skin pulled Angel back” from a dream.  
  • While traveling to California, Max sees a girl getting cornered by three guys. She decides to help. One of the men, “was holding a shotgun loosely in the crook of his arm.” Max confronts them and a fight breaks out. Max kicks the first guy and “a blow that would have only knocked Fang’s breath away actually seemed to snap a rib on this guy.” Max grabs the shotgun’s barrel and cracks it against his head. Max then punches the last guy, “feeling his nose break, and there was a slow-motion pause of about a second before it started gushing blood.”  
  • After Max beats up three bullies, one of the guys cocks the gun and runs at her but she flies away. The men start shooting at her and she felt “a sudden, searing pain in my left shoulder. I gasped and glanced over to see blood blossoming on my sleeve.” The bullet grazed her shoulder and nicked the bone of her wing. She also has a scratch on her cheek as well as a black eye.  
  • While Nudge and Fang wait for Max to return, they find nests of ferruginous hawks, the largest raptor in the U.S. They sit down at the mouth of the cave and watch as “one of the hawks had a partially dismembered gopher in its mouth” and gave it to its fledglings. 
  • In between experiments at the School, Angel is kept in a dog crate. The scientists had “taken blood from her arm, but she’d fought them and bit that one guy.” Angel bit a scientist, so he hit her. Then, Angel read the mind of another scientist who was thinking about the incident and the scientist thinks, “If he wrecks this specimen, I’ll kill him.” 
  • Iggy and Gazzy decide to build bombs for protection. They find an Eraser camp nearby and set an oil trap for the Humvees. The Humvees “hit the trees at an angle and went airborne, sailing upside down about fifteen feet before landing with a heavy crunching sound.” 
  • The Erasers ambush Iggy and Gazzy, but Iggy and Gazzy fly away and set off a bomb. In the air, “a fireball ten yards in diameter rose from where the cabin had been.” In the aftermath, Gazzy watches as “one dark body had flown upward in the blast,” and “the other Eraser had crawled a few feet away from the cabin, a burning silhouette that had collapsed, its outlines blurred by flame.” 
  • At the School, Angel runs in a maze that changes each time she finds the exit. “If she slowed down, she got an electric shock so strong it scrambled her brain, or red-hot wires under her feet burned her.” 
  • Angel reads the minds of the scientists around her and there are several mentions of them wanting to dissect her brain. 
  • In Arizona, Nudge and Fang are confronted by Erasers. Ari, an Eraser, and Fang fight each other. “Ari was sitting on Fang’s chest, punching him. Nudge gasped and put her hand over her mouth as she saw blood erupt from Fang’s nose.” Then “Ari roared and brought both hands down onto Fang’s chest with enough force to snap his ribs.” Ari pulled out a gun and a bullet soared by Nudge’s ear as Fang and Nudge flew away. 
  • Erasers ambush Max, Fang, Nudge, Iggy, and Gazzy. When the flock uses a van to escape, Max crashes into a sedan head-on. The airbags give Max a bloody nose. Max tells everyone to run, “then hissed in a breath as my nose took another jarring blow” from an Eraser. The Erasers capture Max, Fang, and Nudge but Gazzy and Iggy escape.   
  • At the School, Max, Fang, Nudge, and Angel are stuck in cages with other mutants. “Sometime in the next half hour, [Max] realized the ‘experiment’ was no longer breathing. It had died, right next to me.” 
  • Ari teases Max through the bars of her cage. Max “leaned over and chomped hard on Ari’s fingers.” Ari yells in pain, and “was shaking my cage, slamming it with his other hand, and my head was getting snapped around like a paddleball.” 
  • Iggy and Gazzy arrive at the School and free the others. Max, “backhanded [a scientist] against the jaw, feeling teeth knock loose.” Fang and Ari fought, and “Fang smashed him sideways with a kick, then punched the side of Ari’s head.” 
  • Several times, Max collapses due to “a blinding, stunning pain [that] exploded behind my eyes.” Nobody knows what causes this pain but after the pain passes, she hears a “Voice” in her head that gives her advice. 
  • While the flock navigates the underground rails of Manhattan, Gazzy asks what a sign saying to stay off the third rail meant. Fang says, “It means the third rail has seven hundred volts of direct current running through it. Touch it and you’re human popcorn.” 
  • In New York, the flock is running from Erasers, and “a heavy clawed hand grabbed [Max’s] hair, yanking me backward, right off my feet.” The Eraser starts to drag Max away when, suddenly, the Eraser “hit the ground with a sickening thud, and [Max] cracked [her] head against the sidewalk so hard [she] saw fireworks.” The Eraser had suddenly died. 
  • The flock was surrounded and grabbed by Erasers. Fang was “locked in battle with Ari, who raked his claws across Fang’s face, leaving parallel lines of red.” Max begged Ari to stop attacking Fang, but “Ari seized Fang’s head and brought it down hard on a rock.” Ari then “cracked Fang with an elbow. Blood sprayed from Fang’s mouth, and again he went down.” The fight ends when someone appears and tells Ari to back off.  
  • Max and Ari fight. While they exchange blows, “Ari punched [Max] again, and I thought I heard a rib crack.” Max then grabbed Ari’s neck and it “slammed against the hard side of the tunnel,” breaking his neck and killing him. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The flock talks to a kid who was kicked out of MIT because he wouldn’t take his Thorazine. He said he didn’t like the Thorazine, “or Haldol, or Melleril, or Zyprexa.” 

Language   

  • God is used several times as an exclamation. 
  • The word hell is spelled out once as “h-e-double toothpicks” and used one other time. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • The flock seeks refuge in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. “As we passed through the door, the air was instantly cooler and scented with something that smelled ancient and churchy and just. . .  religious somehow.” Everyone in the flock starts to pray. 

This Vicious Grace

Alessa is the latest finestra in a long line of people chosen by the goddess Dea to protect her island. Her powers are supposed to help her save her home, but so far they’ve only managed to kill three suitors simply through her touch. Her suitors, called Fonte, are paired with her in order to hone her power and strengthen their own, but instead, she overwhelms them. Alessa’s running out of time to learn how to use her power and save her people. There are only a few weeks left until the god, Crollo, sends his demons to attack and wipe out all human life from the island.  

In order to keep her safe, Alessa is separated from her family, her old life, and even her name. In order to train, she is locked away. She is lonely. The Fontes she’s paired with are supposed to supply her with a partner, a mate, and a friend, but instead, their unusual deaths have caused an even deeper rift between her and everyone else on the island. Then, a powerful priest begins convincing people that her inability to control her power is evidence that she is a false prophet. He begins to amass a following of very angry, very scared people that are willing to do anything to prevent her from harming others, including kill her. One night, one of Alessa’s own guards even tries to assassinate her. In response, she hires a bodyguard, Dante, to protect her until she can learn how to control her powers and defeat the demons.  

A group of prospective Fonte joins Alessa in order to figure out who, if any of them, can handle her power enough to use it. These Fonte are the only hope Alessa has at defeating the demons. Alessa’s relationship with her new group of prospective Fontes starts off rocky. Because of her failures with the three prior Fontes, the new Fontes are skeptical of her abilities and wary of her motives. When Dante realizes he can handle Alessa’s power, he helps her understand how to wield it. Then, Dante slowly paves the way for Alessa to build a friendship with the new Fontes, and to work alongside them to master her powers.  

This Vicious Grace is told from Alessa’s point of view, and she is a very likable main character. Alessa is a kind, level-headed main character with an affinity for justice. Despite how she’s treated, she still chooses to fight the good fight over and over again and is rewarded for it in the end. Alessa stays true to herself and is a fair and good person who is willing to do whatever it takes to save her people.  

A tale of friendship, overcoming loneliness, and holding out hope despite insurmountable odds, This Vicious Grace is a good novel for readers who enjoy a slow burn romance within a fantasy world filled with gods, demons, and war. This Vicious Grace is Emily Thiede’s debut novel. It includes a lot of references to malevolent gods, vicious demons, and mystical powers and abilities. Though it is a fantasy world, it is not hard to understand the complicated plot and numerous characters. This action-packed book is a fun and interesting read for fantasy lovers. Readers looking for more books set in a fantasy world should also read Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin. 

Sexual Content  

  • While playing a drinking game, Dante asks Alessa, “If you could do anything before Divorando, what would it be?” Alessa replies, “Lose my virginity.” 
  • Dante and Alessa are sleeping in the same bed when Dante starts to kiss and touch her in his sleep. Dante’s “lips brushed the sensitive spot just below her ear, kindling a fire just below her navel. Her thoughts scrambled as his fingers grazed the underside of her breast.” 
  • Alessa kisses Dante outside of her room one night on their way back from rescuing Dante from prison. “Parting her lips, she traced his lips with her tongue, and his control snapped. His hands were everywhere at once—cupping her face, running through her hair, gripping her waist. He pressed her against the door, pressed his mouth to hers, pressed his hips into her. . . ” 
  • Alessa and Dante have sex. There is an intense kissing scene that takes place over two pages prior to this. Dante’s “fingers cupped her bottom, pulling her into him, and she melted, softness yielding to the hard planes of his body. When his hand cupped her breat, she forgot how to breathe . . . He nuzzled her through fabric, his breath warming the bare skin of her thigh . . . ” 

Violence 

  • Alessa’s gift causes her to overwhelm people when she touches them. This causes them severe injury and even death. When she was younger, she almost killed a boy during a race. “She was sitting on his chest. . . she’d touched his forehead and declared ‘you lose’. . . Tendons taut as bowstrings, blood-flecked foam between clenched teeth, he’d spasmed beneath her. He’d nearly bitten his tongue off and still talked with a lisp.” 
  • A masked figure breaks into Alessa’s room and tries to kill her in her sleep. The assassin is convinced that she is a false prophet. She wakes up in her bed to someone choking her. “Something – someone – had her pinned, trapped, crushing her windpipe . . . Hands, encased in thick gloves, tightening around her neck.” 
  • Alessa is in the city and watches two fighters brawl. “The Bear landed his first blow, his fist smashing into the Wolf’s jaw . . . The Wolf landed a punch to the big man’s gut, but the next blow he took sounded like it cracked a few ribs . . . The Wolf slammed a fist into the big man’s cheek and looked about to land a second hit when someone smashed a glass against the bars . . .  The Bear’s opponent’s back was turned, and he slammed his fist into the Wolf’s lower back. He dropped.” The scene continues over two pages. 
  • Alessa unintentionally sneaks up on Dante. Before he sees who it is, he stabs her with his two knives in self defense. “Dante turned so fast she didn’t have time to speak . . . twin fires tore through her abdomen . . . she looked down at his fists, clutching the hilts of his knives, pressed against her . . .blood dripped between his fingers. With a ragged gasp, Dante pulled the knives free.” She begins bleeding out and Dante saves her from the brink of death using healing powers.  
  • Alessa, Dante, and the Fontes fight the demons. When Alessa looks at Dante, “he was already on the ground. A wide gash ran from his chin to one ear, and he was covered in so much blood.” A couple other characters have injuries but none are described, or serious.  

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • After watching a fight in town, Alessa goes to a bar and overhears one of the fighters ordering a whiskey. She orders one for herself as well. “Alessa swirled the glass, watching the whiskey hug the sides and inhaled the sweet heat before she took a sip.”   
  • Alessa and Dante play a drinking game with limoncello in her room. Alessa says, “Truth or challenge . . . if you don’t perform the challenge or answer the question, you take a drink.” 
  • Someone tried to put poison in Alessa’s pastries.   

Language  

  • Profanity is used intermittently. Profanity includes shit, damn, and ass. 
  • Dante and Alessa are talking about how civilians have to pay families to take in their kids in case they die in battle. Alessa says, “It’s not my fault . . . I don’t make the rules I just have to follow them.” Dante replies, “Yeah, well, it’s a bit late to give a shit now.” 
  • Alessa hires Dante to be her bodyguard and they argue about what his duties will be. Dante says, “I don’t half-ass any job. You want me to guard, this is how I do it.”

Supernatural  

  • Demons sent by the malevolent god, Crollo, are the main antagonists in the book. There is no specification on where they come from or whether or not they have powers. They are sent to wipe out humanity because Crollo insists that people are “too flawed and too selfish to endure.” 

Spiritual Content  

  • The book includes God-given magic – the main character Alessa is referred to as a “divine weapon of the gods” throughout the book. There are also frequent references to their religious text, “Holy Verita,” their patron goddess, Dea, and the evil god, Crollo, who sends demons to the island.  
  • The Day of Divorando is a day when demon-like creatures will attack the islands. Kaleb, one of the prosepctive Fonte, says, “On the day of Divorando, we’re supposed to use our powers to ward off the invasion . . . The gods gave us the gifts for defense, so that is what we will use.” 
  • Alessa calls herself a “divinely ordained warrior.” 

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

Several months have passed since Gregor’s first trip to the Underland. Just as his life is returning to normal, his baby sister Boots is kidnapped by the cockroaches, and Gregor is forced to journey back to the subterranean city of Regalia. Once there, Gregor reunites with the rebellious Luxa and his bat Ares whom Gregor has pledged his loyalty and protection. Gregor soon discovers that the Underlanders have kidnapped Boots because of The Prophecy of Bane. This ancient prophecy implies that if Boots were to be killed, the rats would have the key to power. 

The Underlanders believe that Gregor is the prophesied Warrior who must kill an evil rat cloaked in a coat of white: the Bane, an enormous, snow-white 10-foot rat that threatens to destroy Regalia and subject all of the Underland to his rule. The Prophecy of Bane mysteriously says that the Warrior will be fatally weakened if: “Die the baby die his heart, die his most essential part. Die the peace that rules the hour. Gnawers [another term for rats] have their key to power.” Believing that Boots is the baby spoken of in the prophecy, the rats kidnap her.  

In order to save his sister, Gregor and his companions must embark upon a long and dangerous voyage, sailing into the heart of rat territory.  Gregor is determined to destroy the Bane before the rats can kill Boots. Gregor must learn to fight for those he loves while encountering dangers, close calls, and surprises along the journey. He must also discover what it means to be a warrior. 

Those who read Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane will enjoy its simple yet engaging plot, its pulse-pounding action, and its variety of characters and settings. The character and mythos of the Underland are deepened in this worthy sequel. New and dangerous creatures are introduced, the uncharted, watery depths of the Underland are explored, and at the end of this long voyage lies a mysterious and powerful foe: the Bane. 

Once readers enter the world of the Underland, the quick-moving plot and the dynamic characters will sweep middle school readers up, keeping their minds and imaginations engaged for the entirety of the book. To keep the suspense high, each new chapter introduces a new danger, an exciting development, and an intriguing complication to the plot. The action, often violent and bloody, is kicked up a notch from the first book. However, like the first book in the series, it is often the creatures and not the humans that suffer wounds and death in battle. Despite this, sensitive readers may be upset by the vivid battle descriptions. 

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane is rife with themes of familial love and sacrifice, compassion, friendship, and duty. Gregor will stop at nothing to protect his friends and family. However, Gregor is faced with many difficult situations and moral dilemmas, all of which develop his character. Gregor discovers that he possesses incredible powers as a fighter. In fact, whenever he is near or in the midst of battle, Gregor’s mind enters into “rager mode;” a “rager” is a gifted warrior who possesses fighting abilities that approach the supernatural. Throughout the book, Gregor must learn to harness and control these abilities, lest they control him. The danger of letting his violent, rager instincts overpower his kind nature forces Gregor to consider the nature of violence and how it should be used only to protect and defend. 

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane provides a story that is an incredibly entertaining blend of mystery, travel, and adventure. Every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger, providing ample reason for even the most reluctant of readers to devour it quickly. Furthermore, the ending perfectly sets up the sequel, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods. Readers will not be able to help themselves, they’ll have to immediately reach for the next installment. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The Underlanders practice their swordplay by having a contraption that throws small, golfball-sized balls at them in rapid succession. The Underlanders’ goal is to slice as many balls as possible. These balls are filled with red liquid that mimics blood. Gregor first goes into “rager mode” when training with the blood balls. “He was aware only of the blood balls flying toward him from all directions . . .  He could hear his blade making a whistling sound. Something splattered against his face. . . He could feel liquid dripping off his face and hands. The pounding of his heart was audible. He looked down at the ground. At his feet lay the oozing shells of fifteen balls.” 
  • The verbiage of the Prophecy of Bane itself is somewhat violent. For example, If Under fell, if Over leaped,/ If death was life and Death life reaped,/ Something rises from the gloom,/ To make the Underland a tomb./ Hear it scratching down below,/ Rat of long forgotten snow,/ Evil cloaked in coat of White,/ Will the Warrior drain your light?/ What could turn the Warrior weak?/ What do burning Gnawers seek?/ Just a barely speaking pup / That holds the Land of Under up/ Die the baby, die his heart/ Die his most essential part/ Die the peace that rules the hour,/ Gnawers have their key to power.” 
  • Twitchtip, a rat that aids the humans in their mission, threatens a giant talking firefly, saying “. . . if you don’t stop your incessant babble, that big rat sitting in the boat next to you [referring to herself] will rip your head off.” 
  • While discussing effective ways to kill rats, Ares the bat says, “The neck is vulnerable. The heart, but one must get past the ribs. Through the eyes to the brain. Under the foreleg is a vein that bleeds greatly. If you strike at the belly, you may not kill instantly, but the rat will likely die within days from infection.” 
  • As the group is sailing, they are attacked by a giant squid. Gregor is grabbed by “a slimy red tentacle,” and nearly pulled overboard. However, Ares manages to grab him, and “a tug-of-war ensued, with Gregor as the rope.”  
  • As the battle against the squid continues, Gregor “sank his teeth into the tentacle as deeply as he could” and “slice[d] through a tentacle that had encircled his ankle.” Trying to free Gregor, the humans and bats slice and claw at the tentacles. Gregor enters again into rager mode and, “His sword began to move—not in a premeditative way, but with some instinctive precision and force utterly beyond his control. He hacked away at tentacle after tentacle.”  
  • After the battle, “Four angry red circles, sucker marks, swelled on his forearm” where Gregor was initially grabbed. These sucker marks “begin to ooze pus.” The scene is described over three pages. 
  • Gregor’s tentacle wound worsens. “The whole forearm was badly swollen. The sucker wounds, which had turned a revolting shade of purple, oozed fluorescent green pus. They burned as if they were on fire.” 
  • As Pandora, a bat, flies over a volcanic island, a large cloud of flesh-eating mites emerges from the jungle. “[Pandora] had no time to react. One moment she was darting around eating mites, the next moment they were eating her. In less than ten seconds they had stripped the writhing bat down to the bone. Her white skeleton hung for an instant in the air, then crashed into the jungle below.” Ares barely escapes these flesh-eating mites and is bitten on his tail several times while fleeing. 
  • The group is attacked by large, dinosaur-like serpents. As the monsters attack, large waves wash the rats “into the serpents’ mouths.” Various members of the quest are injured. “One of Mareth’s pant legs was soaked in blood. In front of him, Gregor saw the shuttering heap of wet fur that was Twitchtip. Blood poured from her nose, which appeared to have been smashed in, and oozed from the stump that had been her tail.” 
  • When a serpent tries to eat Twitchtip, Gregor stabs the serpent’s tongue. As a fellow quester is attempting to dress Mareth’s wound, he rips “off the remains of Mareth’s blood-soaked pant leg, revealing jagged flesh around a gaping wound.” 
  • Two rats, Snare and Goldshard, fight each other to the death. “The fighting was vicious . . . Snare lost an eye. Goldshard’s ear dangled from a shred of fur. You could see the bone in Snare’s shoulder. Goldshard’s left front paw was snapped in two. Finally, the gold rat came in on her opponent’s blind side and locked her fangs on his neck. In the final throes of death, Snare got his hind feet between their bodies and slashed open the length of Goldshard’s belly . . . Her intestines spilled out on the ground . . . With a terrible gurgling sound, Snare suffocated in his own blood.” 
  • After returning from their journey, the Regalian crowds that have gathered are outraged to learn that Gregor has not killed the Bane. They begin throwing objects at him and Ares. “Something hit [Gregor] on the side of his head. His hand went up and came away bloody . . . More objects began to rain around him . . . The one thing they had in common was that they were all made of stone . . . he and Ares were being stoned to death.”  
  • Because of his failure to slay the Bane, Gregor and the other Underlanders stand trial for treason. Ares informs Gregor that if convicted, “They will bind my wings and your hands and drop us off a very high cliff to the rocks below.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • In response to the taunting of Ripred (a rat), Gregor says, “Just shut up, okay?” 
  • After the mission’s failure, Ripred offers Gregor a warning saying, “And you know, there will be hell to pay in Regalia.” 

Supernatural 

  • Nerissa, a member of Regalia’s royal family, is a soothsayer, and interprets the Prophecy of Bane. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Duel at Araluen

King Duncan and Princess Cassandra are trapped in the south tower of Castle Araluen and under near-constant attack from the Red Fox Clan. Sir Horace and Ranger Commandant Gilan are holed up in an old hill fort, surrounded by the enemy. And Ranger’s apprentice, Maddie, is the only one who can save them all.

With the help of Hal, Thorn, and the rest of the Heron brotherband, Maddie will have to break her father and his men out of the hill fort, but will they reach Castle Araluen in time?

As the third installment of the Royal Ranger Series, Duel at Araluen continues the story of the Red Fox Clan who plan to kill King Duncan, Princess Cassandra, and Maddie. Unlike the previous two books in the series, Duel at Araluen describes many skirmishes between the rebels and the Araluens. While the book has less adventure, there is non-stop action as three groups—the Scandians, Horace and his soldiers, and Cassandra and her loyal army—prepare to defeat the Red Fox Clan.

While the book revolves around war, there is never senseless killing. Even though the Red Fox Clan planned to kill Horace and his men, when the rebels are defeated, Horace doesn’t execute the traitors. Instead, Horace orders his men to “leave the tents there for them so they won’t die of exposure. . . We’ll leave them what medical supplies and bandages we can spare and they can take care of one another.” Like the previous books, many people die, but all of the killings are in self-defense.

Duel at Araluen highlights the importance of loyalty, friendship, and bravery. For example, Jesper, one of the Scandians, makes several mean comments to one of his shipmates. Afterwards, Jesper claimed he was just joking. Hal scolds Jasper, saying, “A joke is when everyone can have a good laugh together. But when you do something that’s spiteful and hurtful and causes misery to someone else, that’s not a joke. That’s cruelty.”

Duel at Araluen uses the same format of all The Ranger’s Apprentice books. Even though the format is familiar, readers will be happy to see returning characters such as the Scandians from the Brotherband Series. Seeing the world from Maddie’s point of view gives the setting a fresh outlook. Plus, both Cassandra and Maddie have strong roles that involve leadership, planning, and fighting. Instead of being portrayed as stereotypical damsels in distress, Cassandra and Maddie are well-developed, capable characters who have many admirable traits. Readers who want to explore books with a strong female character and plenty of action should also add the League of Archers Series by Eva Howard to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After the Red Fox Clan took over the castle, the King, Cassandra and a group of loyal soldiers lock themselves in a tower. The Red Fox Clan started throwing projectiles at the tower. In response, Cassandra’s archers shoot arrows at the invading army. “Two of the first three shots found their targets. One man fell away from the windlass, an arrow in his upper body. Another. . . went down with a shaft in his thigh.”
  • The Red Fox Clan builds a trebuchet and uses it to throw rocks at the castle tower. Cassandra’s archers shoot fire arrows at the trebuchet and the invading army. “Two men went down. One of them stayed down. The other one hauled himself to his feet. . . an arrow through his lower leg. . . All the while, the tree archers peppered the trebuchet with arrows, but to no real effect. The only reward for their efforts was a sole figure lying unmoving on the flagstones.”
  • The Red Fox Clan begins throwing fire bladders at the tower. “Cassandra started in fear as the bladder struck the tower. . . Almost instantly, there was a roar of flame as the oil and pitch ignited, and a flood of fire erupted over the balcony, some of it clinging to the walls, while the rest dripped down and spread tendrils of flame over the floor.” No one is injured by the fire bladders.
  • The Red Fox Clan plan to swarm the fort that Horace, Gilan, and their army are hiding. “The light flared up, revealing a mass of some twenty men on the walkway. Instantly, the archers on the east and west walls drew, aimed and shot. A storm of arrows slammed into the attackers as they bunched together. . . more arrows slammed into them as they hesitated.”
  • During the attack, the rebels use ladders to scale the fort’s walls. “Their leader ran to be the first down one of the ladders. But, five spaces short of it, he was struck by an arrow and hurled back against the rough timbers of the palisade.”
  • One of the rebels lunges at Gilan with a sword. “Gilan’s sword, gleaming blood-red in the smoky firelight, struck like a viper, driving the man’s upper body, piercing the chain metal there. The swordsman gasped and stepped back. . . [Gilan] swung in a diagonal overhead cut at the man on his left. The stroke went home and the man fell to his knees, crying out in pain and shock. Then he toppled sideways.” The battle is described over nine pages.
  • After the battle, a man gives a casualty report. The Araluen’s lost two men and three others were injured. The rebels lost at least a dozen men and eight are wounded and cannot flee.
  • Along with the Scandians, the Araluens attack the rebel army. The Araluens use their lances to try to break up the enemy’s shield wall. “Some of the lances penetrated, forcing their way between the shields, hitting bodies, legs, and arms.” The battle is described over eight pages.
  • During the battle, one of the rebels “reared up in agony, clutching vainly at an arrow that had magically appeared between his shoulder blades.”
  • One of the leaders of the rebel army, Trask, steals his own soldier’s horse and tries to flee. But Maddie sees Trask and uses her sling as a weapon. Trask “felt a thundering impact on his helmet, right in the center of his forehead. . . Vaguely, he felt himself topple backward from the saddle and crash onto the soft grass. Then everything went black.”
  • The rebels set a door on fire, trying to chase Cassandra and her army to flee. One of Cassandra’s sergeants goes around the wall and a crossbowman “raised his weapon and shot. . . Then the crossbow bolt hit him and he reared back, falling dead at Cassandra’s feet.”
  • The book ends with a multi-chapter battle between the Araluens and the Red Fox Clan, where many people die. During the battle, one of Cassandra’s archers is stabbed and “with a startled cry of pain, the archer fell back on the steps, his spear clattering on the stonework as he dropped it.” Many men are killed in a similar manner.
  • During the attack, one of the rebels “felt a chill of fear clutch his heart as he realized he was seriously outmatched. . . In total panic, he turned to run, but Hal leaped forward and, reversing his sword, brought the heavy hilt down on the back of the man’s head, sending him sprawling unconscious on the boards of the walkway.”
  • Cassandra and the rebel leader, Dimon, fight. Cassandra injures him. “Blood dripped slowly from Dimon’s left arm, but not in sufficient quantities to weaken him.” At one point, Cassandra “twisted desperately to the right. The blade scored across her ribs, opening a long, shallow slash in her side. Blood welled out instantly, staining her jerkin.” Cassandra kills Dimon. The sword fight is described over five pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of Cassandra’s sergeants was “nursing a mug of ale—a small mug, in view of their limited supply.”

Language

  • Damn is used three times. For example, Dimon says, “I should have thought of this damned tower, should have remembered how impregnable it can be.”
  • Maddie’s horse says, “By Blarney’s perpetual beard, when you sleep, you really sleep, don’t you?”
  • Maddie calls her horse a know-all and a blowhard.
  • Twice a Scandian uses “Orlog’s ears” as an exclamation.
  • The king calls the rebel’s leader scum.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Maddie’s horse makes a comment about Blarney, “a minor Hibernian deity. . .His beard grew constantly down to his feet, no matter how often he cut or shaved it.”

Dragon Rider #1

Firedrake, a dragon living in a small valley in Nothern Scotland, is stunned when he learns that humans are about to flood his home. Firedrake consults his family of dragons, who tell him of a time past, where dragons lived in solitude in the far east, in a range of mountains called the Rim of Heaven. Since his fellow dragons are unable to hide from the humans forever, Firedrake, along with his brownie companion Sorrel, set out to find a new home in the Rim of Heaven.

As they travel in search of a mapmaker, they encounter an orphaned human boy, Ben, who they take with them on their travels. At the mapmakers, they learn of the existence of “The Golden One,” a fearsome creature named Nettlebrand, a dragon who hunts other dragons and is armored with impenetrable golden scales. Even with the threat of this mysterious creature, the group is determined to continue their journey and find the Rim of Heaven.

Flying over moonlit lands and sparkling seas, they encounter fantastic creatures, summon up surprising courage – and cross the path of a ruthless villain with an ancient grudge who’s determined to end their quest. Only a secret destiny can save the dragons in this enchanting adventure about the true meaning of home.

Dragon Rider is a tale with many twists and turns as the characters meet many new friends and confront countless setbacks on their way to the Rim of Heaven. The story’s focus on Firedrake’s travels does not allow for any real character development. However, Twigleg undergoes the most change since he develops from a spy to a trusted friend. The remaining cast of characters is entertaining as they do their best to protect one another on their misadventures. Furthermore, the characters’ reactions to situations are entertaining. For instance, the brownie Sorrel is full of insults, but she is also full of wit and concern for friends. The blundering yet cruel persona of Nettlebrand contrasted to his timid servants also earns a few laughs, making this story an overall enjoyable read for its humor and adventure.

Dragon Rider will become some readers’ favorite book because of its thrilling magical aspects. But, the many random encounters with magical creatures does not necessarily add to the plot development and the worldbuilding lacks detail. Despite this, the many funny and interesting characters make this story worthwhile. Another positive aspect of the story is that it highlights the need for one to find a sense of belonging which is reinforced by Firedrake’s desire to protect his kin. In the end, all the characters find themselves a new place to belong, but they never would’ve found it had they not gone looking. Dragon Rider will appeal to readers looking for an entertaining story full of adventure and creatures of legend.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sorrel threatens Rat. “Stop winding us all up like this or I’ll tie a knot in your tail!”
  • Sorrel threatens to hurt another rat, Gilbert. “I’ve got a good mind to shut you in one of your own drawers!” Sorrel later says, “I ought to have tied that silly fat podge to his globe with his own tail.”
  • It is known that Nettlebrand ate eleven of Twigleg’s siblings, but this is not described.
  • Nettlebrand threatens to eat Professor Greenbloom. “Talk away! I’ll eat you any moment now.”
  • To escape the Professor, Gravelbeard, a dwarf, bites his hand. It is not injured.
  • A sea serpent briefly describes a fight with Nettlebrand. She fought with her sister against The Golden One. “We [the serpent sisters] wound our coils around [Nettlebrand’s] armor and kept [Nettlebrand’s] jaws shut with our bodies. But his golden scales were cold as ice and burned us.”
  • Sorrel suspects a raven is a spy, so she strikes the raven with a stone. Since brownie spit is magical, she spits on the stone first, then throws it. “Like lightning, she took aim and hurled the stone into the sky. It flew straight as an arrow to the raven, struck his right wing, and remained stuck to his feathers like a burr. Cawing angrily, the black bird fluttered about, beating his wings violently and lurching around in the sky as if he had lost all sense of direction. Ben watched incredulously as the raven pecked more and more frantically at his wing and finally few unsteadily away.”
  • Twigleg describes the consequences of Nettlebrand’s creation. “The more bored [Nettlebrand] was, the more violent and evil-tempered he grew . . . Nettlebrand, in his rage, ate all my brothers . . . [Nettlebrand] ate our maker too. . . but [Nettlebrand’s] still searching for dragons.”
  • When he finds out that he’s been betrayed, Nettlebrand threatens to kill Twigleg. “I’ll trample him to death! I’ll crack him like a nut! I’ll eat him alive the way I ate his brothers!”
  • Ben is caught by a giant bird who takes Ben to his nest as food for its chick. “Beating his wings vigorously, Firedrake landed on the edge of the nest, as close as possible to where Ben was sheltering. The huge chick retreated in fright. It uttered a hoarse crock and opened its beak menacingly . . . when [the chick] tried lunging at Ben again, the dragon bared his teeth and roared so threateningly that it flinched back in terror.” Ben is rescued before any harm comes to him.
  • No one is hurt in the final stand against Nettlebrand. The friends cover him in brownie spit and breathe dragon fire on him, which makes him turn into his original form, a toad. “The dragons swooped toward him. . . their blue fire licked at him, burning his limbs. Nettlebrand stared down at himself. His armor was melting into a sticky, golden sludge. . . White vapor, damp and cold as ice, surged from his jaws. Hissing, the chill escaped his body until he collapsed like a punctured balloon.” A toad hops out of the puddle of gold, unharmed.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a run-in with sand elves, the mischievous creatures toss around sleeping powder, which affects Ben. The next day, Firedrake asks Ben if he has “slept off his elfin hangover.”

Language

  • Sorrel is bad-tempered. She often uses the names of mushrooms in place of expletives such as “festering fungus” and “putrid puffballs.”
  • Some of the characters constantly insult one another. For example, Rosa calls Sorrel a “brainless mushroom-muncher” and says, “What thanks do I get? I have to listen to her silly fur-brained fancies!” Another insult is used later, when someone says, “You leaf-burrowing, mushroom-munching, shaggy-haired brownie.”
  • Sorrel calls many of the characters names such as dimwit, idiot, and stupid.
  • Sorrel also says that humans stick their “nasty furless noses” in places they don’t belong.
  • Sorrel tells Gilbert the rat that he has a “fat little ratty bum.” She also calls him “stuck up.”
  • Nettlebrand frequently insults his armor cleaner, Twigleg. He calls Twigleg a “bone-brained homunculus.” He also calls him “beetle-brain.”
  • Twigleg does not think very highly of Sorrel. He thinks, “The stuck-up, suspicious brownie! Laughing at him for eating flies, then stuffing her own face with those stinking mushrooms!”
  • Twigleg calls sand elves “stupid little things.”
  • Twigleg calls Sorrel a “pig-headed, pointed-eared brownie,” and adds, “Do you only ever open your eyes to tell one mushroom from another?”
  • Nettlebrand curses Twigleg when he finds out that he’s been betrayed. “That stinking flea! That spidery monstrosity! That sharp-nosed birdbrain!”
  • Twigleg calls Burr-Burr-Chan, another brownie, a “great furry fool.”
  • Twigleg also calls Sorrel “a stupid, pointy-eared nitwit.”

Supernatural

  • The book features talking animals such as Rosa Greytail, a talking rat who lives with the dragons. It also includes many mythical creatures including dragons, brownies, elves, dwarves, fairies, and more. An unknown magical force draws magical creatures together and allows them to speak the same language.
  • Dragons in this story are a bit unusual from the typical view of them. They have calm demeanors and live entirely on moonlight. Dragon fire can also cure injuries and bring out the true nature of any creature that has been enchanted by magic.
  • Twigleg, one of the main characters, is a homunculus or manikin, a being that is animated by alchemy.
  • Brownies are fictional cat-like creatures that walk on two legs and have magical saliva. Some have four or six arms, but Sorrel has two.
  • A magical form of communication is used between Nettlebrand and Twigleg in which one of them spits in water and can contact the other.
  • Nettlebrand is a dragon created to hunt dragons, made by an alchemist from indestructible metal. The alchemist used the ivory from dragon horns to make gold, which is why he needed a creature to hunt them.
  • The group meets a four-armed brownie named Burr-Burr-Chan who accompanies them for some time. “He looked almost like Sorrel, except that his coat was paler and thicker. And he had four arms.” Burr-Burr-Chan explains that he is a special type of brownie called Dubidai who protect the dragons.

Spiritual Content

  • The group of adventurers stop at a monastery that worships the dragons. There, Professor Greenbloom talks briefly about reincarnation. “These people [the monks] believe that we all live many lives on this planet. So any one of these children could really be older than the oldest grown-up monk.”
  • The monastery also has a temple to “The Kindly Gods” and one to “The Angry Gods” which are mentioned. The Angry Gods, “are said to keep all evil from the monastery and the village.” The evil includes spirits and natural disasters.

by Maddie Shooter

Legend

Set in the Republic, what was once the western United States, the world of Legend dives into the lives of two intelligent fifteen-year-olds, Day and June, who come from completely different backgrounds. Amid a war splitting the nation apart and a plague spreading throughout the Republic, Day and June must try to navigate the twists and turns of their own lives. 

Day is a wanted criminal from the slum sector who failed his Trials – a test every ten-year-old must take that determines how useful they will be to the government. Despite hiding from the Republic’s military, Day is trying to provide for his brothers and mother. When Day finds out his younger brother Eden has been infected with the plague, he tries to steal medicine and starts to uncover things the Republic wants hidden.  

June is the Republic’s star student, who comes from an upper-class military family and had a perfect score during her Trials. She attends the top university and lives with her brother, Metias, a respected military officer and June’s guardian. However, when Metias is killed, the Republic tasks a grieving June to avenge her brother’s death and find the prime suspect: Day.  

Their missions lead Day and June to meet each other and they unexpectedly discover an inexplicable attraction to each other. The two uncover a truth that the Republic wants to keep hidden. Soon, Day and June realize they must work together to understand the extent the Republic will go to keep its dark secrets. 

Legend is a page-turning dystopian story that stars two quick-witted and strong characters that are trying to figure out who they are in a world of conflict and deceit. Both Day’s and June’s perspectives are told from first-person point of view. To help readers avoid confusion, the text’s fonts and colors change to distinguish the chapter’s speaker. By allowing the reader to experience both sides, they can learn new information alongside the characters. Readers will become more connected with the characters and understand how they feel, making both June and Day relatable and likable. 

The story includes an array of issues such as classism, morality, trust, the effects of standardized testing, and the value of family. The subjects are well-integrated into the plot without being shoved in the reader’s faces. The book clearly lays out and compares the differences between Day’s poor background and June’s wealthy upbringing, exposing the vast inequalities. The Trials are a method of standardized testing split into three parts: the physical exam, the interview, and the written exam. Children take the tests to determine if they will be helpful to the military. While both Day and June are smart in their own ways, Day is not supportive of the Republic so he is ostracized and punished.  

Legend is perfect for dystopian fans who like action, mystery, and a little bit of romance. The story is dramatic, intense, and has good pacing. The plot is understandable and thought-provoking, although some of the twists are a little predictable. The theme that nothing is as it seems shines as the deception of the government and the innocence of Day is revealed. Overall, Legend is a strong start to a trilogy that uses a believable situation to encourage readers to stick to their morals, even when it makes life difficult. Readers looking for more fast-paced dystopian novels will also enjoy the Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie. 

Sexual Content 

  • While roaming the streets, Day wanders into a bar and chats with a bartender. Day thinks, “If I weren’t busy hunting for information, I’d take my time with this girl, chat her up and maybe get a kiss or three out of her.” 
  • After helping June recover from her injuries from a fight, Day studies June. Day thinks, “At this moment all I’m thinking about is what I’d give up for the chance to kiss her or to run my fingers through her dark hair.” 
  • There are several instances that both Day and June are imagining kissing and touching each other. Day says that “nothing good can come out of falling for someone on the streets.” But he admits, “a part of [him] still wants to kiss her, no matter how cracked a move it might be.”  
  • Day and June are talking and drinking nectar wine when they kiss. Day “kisses [her] gently at first and then, as if he’s reaching for something more, he pushes [her] against the wall and kisses [her] harder.” 
  • The following day, Day thinks about kissing June. Day can “still feel her lips against mine, the smooth, soft skin of her face and arms, the slight trembling of her hands.” June says he has kissed lots of girls before her, but that June is different and he “[wants] more.” 
  • A jealous Thomas, a Republic soldier, brings June back to her apartment, asking if Day had kissed her. She says it was for the mission. “Then, before I can protest, one of Thomas’s gloved hands brushes my chin as he leans in to kiss me on the lips.” June is repulsed and pulls away but his hand stays on the back of her neck. 
  • June has a dream. “Day has his arms wrapped around me and is kissing me again and again, his hands running up my arms and through my hair and around my waist, his chest pressed against mine, his breath against my cheeks and neck and ears.” 
  • In the aftermath of their escape, June and Day talk about what happened. They hug and, “she wipes a tear from [his] cheek and kisses [him].” 
  • Day and June discuss a plan to go to The Colonies. Day is appreciative that June wants to stay with him and kisses her while June “wraps [her] arm around his neck and kiss[es] him back.” 

Violence 

  • While soldiers are inspecting the Lake sector for plague-infected people, a woman wanders into the street. A soldier “lifts his gun and aims. A volley of sparks engulfs the infected woman.” 
  • To find a cure for his plague-ridden brother, Day infiltrates the hospital. To make the doctor show him where the cures are stashed, Day “whip[s] out one of [his] knives and hold[s] it close to the man’s throat.”  
  • While Day is escaping from the hospital, soldiers fire at him. “One of the stray bullets scrapes [Day] and searing pain shoots up [his] arm.”  
  • After Day escapes from the hospital, Metias confronts him. Metias tries to take him into custody, but “before he can fire, my knife hits him hard in the shoulder and he falls backward with a thud.”  
  • The Republic soldiers have captured a spy from the Colonies and are torturing him in an interrogation room. “Whenever he thrashes, Commander Jameson stomps on the chain around his neck and chokes him until he stops.”  
  • Day is watching and betting on a Skiz fight between Kaede, the bartender, and another girl. “Kaede strikes early and hard, lunging out and striking the other girl viciously across the face.” After another punch, the girl “crashes to the ground, hitting her head on the cement floor.” This fight scene lasts two pages. 
  • June stumbles into a Skiz fight where viewers bet on two fighters. When someone loses, they are kicked out of the tournament while the winner picks the next contestant. June is fighting Kaede, a fan-favorite fighter. During the fight, “Kaede’s fist punches hard into [her] side, and [she] feel[s] a terrible, sharp pain.” June is stabbed, thinking that, “Only a serrated knife could have torn [her] skin that way.” June ends the fight by ‘twist[ing Kaede’s] arm in a tight hold. In one move, [she] shatter[s] it.” By the end of the fight, June’s side is bleeding. The fight lasts three pages. 
  • While June is trying to escape the crowd who wants her to continue fighting, “Someone grabs [her] leg and yanks hard. [She] hit[s] [her] head hard enough to send the world spinning.” 
  • The Republic military goes to Day’s house to take his family into custody. Thomas, a Republic soldier, kills Day’s mother when he “shoots her in the head.” From June’s perspective, she thinks she’s supposed to “feel the joy of avenging [her] brother’s death.” But she can’t. “The pool of blood underneath the woman is starting to make [her] feel sick.” 
  • The soldiers capture Day and are trying to bring him into headquarters. When he fights back, “one soldier kicks him hard enough to knock him out.” 
  • While Day is in custody, soldiers beat him, and he sustains many injuries. “The girl looks down, then takes a gun from her belt and strikes me hard across the face.” 
  • The Republic is showing the civilians that they caught the infamous criminal Day, but some protesters in the crowd cause a ruckus, irritating soldiers. “One of the soldiers restraining me strikes me in the back with his rifle.” 
  • After Day is taken into custody, June goes to talk to him and observes his injuries. “His lips are so cracked that a little blood has trickled down to his chin.” His leg “is swollen to twice its normal size,” and, “Blood oozes from the edges of the bandage.” 
  • Hundreds of protestors gather outside of Batalla Hall and soldiers are sent to deal with them as they become unruly. Soon enough, “Bullets rain down on the square. People in the crowd collapse like levees in a flood.” Afterward, June scans “the scene of blood and bodies and prisoners. There are 97, 98 dead. No, at least 120. Hundreds more are in custody.” 
  • There is mention of death by execution in several scenes. When a judge announces the verdict for Day’s crimes, he says, “Day is hereby sentenced to death…by firing squad, to be carried out four days from today, on December twenty-seventh at six p.m. . . ” 
  • A soldier, Thomas, goes into Day’s cell to interrogate him. “His left fist hits me hard across the jaw, and my head snaps to the side.” By the end of the fight, Day’s face is bleeding, and it can be assumed that he is badly bruised because, “He hits me again, then one of his knees slams into my stomach.” Thomas also threatens Day’s brothers, saying that Day should, “Watch [his] tongue, unless [he] want[s] to see their bodies lined up next to [his] mother’s.” The confrontation lasts for three pages. 
  • Day attempts to break out of prison. “I swing back down, kicking one soldier in the head with my good leg.” The escape is described over two pages. 
  • After Commander Jameson prevents Day from escaping, she has a violent confrontation with Day. “Before she can stop me, I dart out of her grasp and sink my teeth deep into her hand.”  
  • Day has a flashback to his childhood when he accidentally hit a policeman with a ball while playing with his brother John in the street. The police officer punishes him for it when “he lifts the knife and gets ready to hit [Day] across the face with its handle.” John tries to plead with the police to stop him but, “The knife handle whips [him] across the face. The policeman walks over and kicks [him] in [his] side.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One night, Day and June talk to one another, and “a bottle of nectar wine sits between us.” 

Language   

  • Hell and damn are both used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The New Olympians

There is a horse named Tornado Warning that’s winning every race he enters—and faster than ever before seen—and Emily thinks the animal looks a lot like Pegasus. Afraid of what this might mean and of what Jupiter might do if he finds out, Emily, Joel, Paelen, Pegasus, and the sphinx Alexis decide to go to Earth to investigate. There they discover a plot to replicate Olympians and Nirads. The CRU has already created dozens of clones. Now they want to create their own Emily clone—and it doesn’t matter to them if the original Emily dies in the process. 

Can Emily and her friends put a stop to the CRU’s plans before Jupiter finds out and follows through on his threat to destroy the Earth? 

The New Olympians’ plot revolves around the CRU’s ability to make clones of the Olympians. The Olympians believe making clones is unnatural and that the humans must be stopped. Emily’s thoughts, the descriptions of the clones, and the Olympian’s views all reinforce the idea that making clones is immoral. To make matters worse, the CRU hopes to use the clones to dominate the world. An agent explains, “One world order isn’t a bad thing, Emily. There will be no more borders, no more wars . . . One language, one people and one country. . . The CRU is going to create Olympus on Earth.” In order to achieve this, the CRU will murder anyone who opposes them. While Emily has no desire to hurt anyone, she has no choice but to destroy the CRU facility and anyone who tries to stop her.  

The New Olympians has a more serious tone and ramps up the violence. Sensitive readers may be upset by the treatment of the clones, some of which have deformities and are kept in cages. While none of the actual deaths are described, the number of people who are injured, killed, and punished may be upsetting.  

One negative aspect of the story is inconsistencies in the characters’ actions. For example, even though the CRU can identify Paelen, he still puts himself and others in danger when he goes to the Las Vegas strip to see the sights. In the first two books, Paelen tries desperately to prove that he is no longer a thief. However, in The New Olympians, he steals several times and acts as if he enjoys the thrill of thievery. In another instance, Emily and her friends’ original goal was to verify that the CRU had indeed made clones. However, instead of reporting back to Jupiter once they’ve confirmed the existence of clones, the group decides to confront the CRU. Despite their knowledge of the CRU’s cruel tactics, the group makes several unrealistic decisions. For example, Agent T, who used to work for CRU, leads the group to a small town close to Area 51. Even though he knows the area is crawling with agents, Agent T thinks the group will go unnoticed. However, Agent T is quickly dispatched. Agent T’s presence doesn’t shed light on any new information which makes that section of the story feel unimportant and a waste of pages. 

Readers who have read the first two books in the series will find The New Olympians frustrating because of the story’s inconsistencies, Emily’s lack of character growth, and events that do not advance the plot. However, readers may enjoy the reappearance of several characters from the previous books. The New Olympians wraps up the main conflict with the CRU’s clone-making abilities, which allows the next book in the series, Pegasus and the Origins of Olympus, to take Emily back in time to the origins of Olympus and to the deadly battle between the Olympians and the Titans. Readers who love traveling to other worlds where pegasi live should also read the Riders of the Realm Series by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez. 

Sexual Content 

  • After Joel scores a winning goal, the sphinx Alexis “brushed back the hair from Joel’s eyes, leaned forward, and kissed him full and long on the lips.” The kiss makes Emily jealous. 
  • The newspaper prints a picture of Tornado Warning, who looks like Pegasus’ twin. One of the Olympians asks Pegasus, “Did you get up to some mischief while you were in Emily’s world?” 

Violence 

  • Emily and her friends break into a house that belongs to Agent T and Earl. When Agent T comes down the stairs, he screams. “Alexis knocked to the floor a long-haired man wearing a brown bathrobe. Emily received her first look at Alexis’s eating teeth as the Sphinx stood on the man’s chest and prepared to kill him. . . Huge, sharp canines filled her mouth as her jaw unhinged to allow her to open her mouth wider than Emily had thought possible.” Joel calms the sphinx down before anything worse happens.  
  • A newspaper article describes a robbery, saying “there was only one survivor of the massacre.” 
  • Another newspaper article describes a boy who broke into a chocolate store. “One witness said he was super strong and tossed everyone around like they weighed nothing.”  
  • When Pegasus sees Tornado Warning, Pegasus attacks him. “Tornado Warning charged out of his stable. Rearing up, the two glowing stallions attacked each other with all the fury they possessed. Pegasus’s wings opened and smashed at Tornado’s head, knocking him into the large open training ring.”  
  • Pegasus’s brother tries to stop the fight, but “all his presence did was to infuriate Tornado Warning further. The gray stallion rose high in the air and came crashing down on Chrysaor with his powerful front hooves. Driven to the ground, the winged boar squealed in pain.” Chrysaor is injured.  
  • Ranch hands hear the horses fighting and go to investigate. “A blast from a shotgun fired at Pegasus alerting the group. . . [Emily] raised her hands in the air. No flame emerged, but the man was lifted over the heads of the fighting stallions and thrown to the opposite side of the stable.” Agent T holds the ranch hands at gunpoint.  
  • The stallions continue to fight. “Pegasus was steadily gaining over Tornado. Despite the racing stallion’s strength, he was no match for the enraged Olympian . . . Tornado Warning was covered in blood from the deep cuts caused by Pegasus’s hooves. His eyes were closed, and he wasn’t breathing.” The fight is described over six pages. 
  • Agent T needs information about Tornado Warning. A ranch hand named Rip refuses to talk, so Agent T “slapped Rip across the face.” Rip is still defiant and Alexis attacks. “Moments later Rip Russell was on the ground, crying in pain and grasping his lower legs. His jeans were torn from Alexis’s claws, and blood was rising to the surface.”  
  • When Rip and some other ranch hands try to grab Emily, Alexis attacks them. Emily closes her eyes, so she doesn’t see the attack, but Agent T tells her, “Keep your eyes shut; you don’t want to see this.” Alexis kills the men who were “going after Emily.” Later, Emily sees blood on her clothes.  
  • When Agent T tries to talk to the CRU, they attack him and Alexis. Alexis’ wings are dislocated. Alexis thinks Agent T is dead, so she runs to warn the others. 
  • The CRU soldiers try to capture Emily and her friends. When the soldiers arrive, “Popping sounds filled the air as they fired. [Emily] felt the stings on her arms and back and realized they were using tranquilizer darts. . . She held up her hand and released the laserlike flame at the nearest military vehicle. It exploded in a brilliant blast.” This causes a chain reaction that blows up the other vehicles.  
  • The CRU also try to capture Tornado Warning. The horse “stopped, spun around, and charged the soldiers who were trying to capture him. . . He instinctively used his wings as weapons. He flapped them and struck the men who were trying to catch him. Others were kicked by his lethal hooves. . . the winged racehorse [was] finally brought down by the countless tranquilizer darts being shot into him.” 
  • During the attack, Joel is shot. In anger, Emily goes after the military helicopters. “Emily focused her eyes on the closest helicopter. . . Emily raised her hands and unleashed the flame.” The story implies that Emily destroys all the helicopters. The attack is described over five pages. 
  • While walking down a Las Vegas street, two men “pulled out weapons and shoved them into Paelen’s and Joel’s backs.” They take Paelen, Joel, and Frankie to their mob boss. After the mob boss threatens to kill them, Joel and Paelen attack the men. “A shot went off and hit Joel’s arm, but the bullet ricocheted off the silver and hit one of the men.” Paelen is shot in the head. “The bullet knocked Paelen backwards. He felt a searing pain in the center of his forehead. . . Joel charged the shooter. . . The tattooed man cried out as the bones in his arm shattered under the impact of Joel’s silver arm.” The scene is described over seven pages. 
  • After subduing the mob boss’ men, Joel tries to get the mob boss to talk. When he refuses, Joel “put his silver hand around the man’s throat and hoisted him up in the air. As the tattooed man squirmed and tried to break free, Joel slammed him hard against the wall.” The man eventually talks. Joel and Paelen then tie up the man and leave. 
  • When Paelen’s clone sees him, the clone attacks. The clone “smashed through the diner door and turned on Paelen. It screeched and roared and charged at him with murderous fury in his eyes. . . The clone lifted Paelen in the air and threw him through the plate-glass window of the diner. . . The clone struck out at Joel with a brutal blow that threw him several meters in the air. Joel landed on the roof of a seller’s pushcart and slipped down to the ground, badly winded.” 
  • As the fight continues, Paelen “tore up a streetlight from the pavement and used the pole like a bat, smashing the clone into a tall, brightly lit casino sign. Lightbulbs burst and sparked as debris poured down into the street.” As Paelen and the clone throw each other around, they start a fire. 
  • Ignoring the fire, Paelen “hurled the clone at the biggest, heaviest thing he could find—a lighted wall of a casino. The casino’s sign exploded with the impact, and the wall crumbled. As the clone fell to the ground, part of the lighted sign collapsed and fell on top of it.”  
  • A police officer raises his weapon at an injured Paelen. When Paelen refuses to stop, the officer shoots a taser. “Electrical current tore through him. He lost control of his muscles and collapsed to the ground, convulsing. The pain was intense, and he couldn’t move.” Paelen passes out and wakes up in jail. The fight scene is described over five pages. 
  • Paelen breaks out of jail, and returns to his hiding place, but the clone is still able to find him. “The clone, caught hold of him and, screaming in rage, lifted him high above its head. Snarling with uncontrolled hatred, it hurled Paelen at the painted window. . .” Paelen falls off the building and is presumed dead.  
  • In order to keep her friends safe, Emily shoots at the military helicopters that are shooting at them. “One by one, the helicopters exploded in the air and rained fire down on the dark desert floor. Soon they were alone.” 
  • In an epic, multi-chapter conclusion, the Olympians, led by Emily, fight the CRU. Emily tries to talk to the CRU soldiers, who shoot her. Emily “felt her body exploding in pain as several bullets found their mark. Thrown backwards, she hit her head on the ground with an explosive impact.” In a panic, Emily accidentally makes Alexis and Pegasus disappear and Emily assumes she has killed them. 
  • When Jupiter finds out what is happening on Earth, he takes his two brothers—Pluto and Neptune—to Earth. To help Joel, the three go to the police station. The police “opened fire on the chariots. Unaffected by their bullets, Jupiter returned fire with his lightning bolts. Suddenly the ground beneath the police exploded as Neptune commanded water to come forth.” 
  • When another police officer shoots at Pluto, “he swept his hand in the air. An instant later, the officer collapsed dead to the ground.” As they talk to the police, helicopters appear. “A second rocket was fired at the Olympians. Jupiter raised his arm, and the rocket shot away from the chariots and tore into the police station. The rocket exploded on impact. . .” Jupiter “fired powerful lightning bolts at [the helicopters]. They burst into flame and crashed down to the street in a heap of burning metal.” 
  • The military continues to shoot weapons at the Olympians, who remain unharmed. The weapons “were defeated by the Olympians’ powers and crashed into a big black pyramid-shaped building. The light at its top went out, the windows exploded, and the building burst into flame.”  
  • The CRU captures the Nirad prince, Toban. They secure him to a table with gold and the gold burns his skin. The gold “scalded him until his skin smoldered, opened, and bled. [Emily] watched scientists extracting fresh black blood and skin samples from the suffering young prince. . . The prince’s eyes were shut as he writhed and howled in pain. The tight gold bands were cutting deep into his smoking, open flesh.” 
  • To destroy the CRU’s ability to make clones, Emily destroys Area 51. “Emily unleashes her power. Laserlike flames rushed from her hands and burned their way into the buildings. . . The sounds of the groaning and crumbling facility filled the air and grew in intensity until they become almost unbearable . . . The dust settled, and where once stood the CRU facility was nothing but an impossibly large crater.” 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Emily meets Tornado Warning, one of the workers tells her, “Tornado Warning is loco. He has killed two riders. No one can touch him unless he is drugged.” In order to control Tornado Warning, the horse is given sedatives.  
  • In order to keep Tornado Warning from fighting with Pegasus, the horse is given “heavy tranquilizers” that make him sleep.  
  • Paelen meets a homeless boy named Frankie. Frankie’s mother abandoned him, and the boy is being cared for by a man who is drunk often. 
  • In order to steal money, Paelen targets a drunk gambler. 

Language   

  • The adults use profanity infrequently. Profanity includes darn, heck, damn, and hell. For example, Agent T asks Emily, “what the hell are you doing back here?” 
  • Oh God and Lord are used as exclamations several times.  

Supernatural 

  • The story includes many Greek Gods, who have supernatural powers, such as the sphinx Alexis who can “read a human’s intentions.” 
  • The sphinx Alexis is given Pluto’s helmet of invisibility so she can travel around Earth without being seen. 
  • Emily can heal others. She also has new, unpredictable powers. She explains, “Sometimes I can move things. Sometimes items disappear and I can never find them again. And sometimes they explode.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • When Emily plans to go to Earth without permission, she “prayed she would be returning to him in Olympus soon with good news.” 
  • When Earl finds out about Tornado Warning, he says, “pray to God he’s just a horse and not an Olympian clone.” 
  • When Emily leads the military away from her friends, Paelen prayed, “Be safe, Emily.” 
  • At Agent T’s request, Jupiter turns him into a willow tree. Jupiter explains that Agent T is a “very happy” tree. “Agent T will never feel pain but can still experience joy. He can think, speak, and live a long and happy life with Alexis.” 
  • In order to punish the CRU staff, Pluto changes them into Prometheus Oak trees. “Being turned into a Prometheus Oak is living torture. He will remain fully conscious and aware of his previous life. He will feel everything. . . His bark is like breaking bones, and when the wind blow through his leaves, you will hear him screaming.” 

Gregor the Overlander

When eleven-year-old Gregor and his two-year-old sister, Boots, fall down an air duct in their laundry room, they find themselves in Underland: an underground world that has remained hidden from the surface dwellers for centuries. Underland is populated by the friendly but fierce Underlanders, who live in the underground city of Regalia. However, Underlanders are not the only ones who live in the dark. Giant, talking animals inhabit this strange place: enormous bats, upon whom the Underlanders ride and fly, cockroaches, spiders, and worst of all, rats.

The rats are the sworn enemies of the people of Regalia and when Gregor arrives, word begins to spread that he may be the warrior spoken of in an ancient Underland prophecy; a warrior who will save Regalia from the rats. Gregor, however, just wants to find his father, who’s been missing for over two years and may be lost somewhere in Underland. On his quest to recover his father, Gregor learns many important lessons about courage, friendship, and perseverance.

Those who read Gregor the Overlander will enjoy its unrelentingly quick pace and action. The peculiar and intriguing world of Underland, the fantastical and dangerous creatures, the mysterious “Prophecy of Gray,” and the hunt for a boy’s lost father are sure to hook the reader for the entirety of the story. The action, while violent and bloody, is not gory. Often, giant bugs or animals are wounded and killed in battle, which some may find more palatable than human violence.

The story is rife with themes that are important for every child to explore, such as family, friendship, sacrifice, courage, and empathy. Throughout the book, Gregor is unceasingly loving, kind, and protective of his little sister, and in the darkest moments of his quest, Gregor finds strength and hope in the thought of reuniting with his father. Gregor is not a perfect character though; he often finds himself losing his temper and judging others too quickly, like the cockroaches Tick and Temp. However, Gregor learns that these humble creatures possess virtues of their own and are deserving of respect and dignity. Gregor also frequently butts heads with two young Underlanders (who also happen to be royalty in Regalia), Luxa and Henry. However, after Luxa rescues Gregor and vice versa the two begin to trust and respect one another, planting the seeds of friendship.

Throughout the story, Gregor expresses doubt that he is in fact the warrior spoken of in the Prophecy of Gray. However, he continually demonstrates courage in the face of danger, surprising both himself and the Underlanders. In the end, Gregor finds that he is willing to sacrifice himself for his friends. Throughout the story, Gregor develops into a courageous, yet thoughtful young man. Though the story is self-contained, it also sets up the sequel, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, quite nicely.

Gregor the Overlander’s unique blend of fantasy, mystery, and adventure combine to create a story that is sure to entice and delight young readers. Plus, readers will find it easy to identify with Gregor and imagine how they would react to the challenges he faces. The fast-paced story with its unique world, its pulse-pounding action, and its compelling characters ensure that readers won’t want to put it down until they’ve finished, after which they’ll quickly reach for the next one, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Gregor tries to escape and return home from Regalia, two rats find him and Boots, intending to eat them. The kids are saved when a squad of Overlanders comes to their rescue, but there are many bloody wounds sustained in the ensuing battle. One of the rats bites the wing and throat of a bat, and an Underlander cuts off a rat’s ear “with one stroke of her sword.” Gregor “thrusts his torch into [the rat’s] face,” causing him to stumble back “right into Henry’s sword.” A bat sprays blood from a wound in its wing, and another rat dies when stabbed through the throat.
  • Luxa, a human Underlander, “crossed the room and struck [Gregor] on the face” for attempting to escape Regalia’s palace.
  • A woman and her bat barge into a meeting, the woman “pressing her hands to her chest to stem the flow of blood [while one of her] bat’s wings folded in, but the other extended at an awkward angle, clearly broken.” The woman delivers a message, then passes out.
  • A giant spider nearly eats Luxa, but she is saved at the last moment: “From above, a jet of silk shot down, encircling Luxa’s sword arm and jerking her from her bat. The pair of striped legs reeled her in like a fish.” Gregor saves Luxa by spraying the spider in the face with a can of soda: “Just as the fangs were about to pierce Luxa’s throat, [Gregor] flew up and popped the soda can top. The stream of root beer shot out and smacked the spider queen right in the face. She dropped Luxa and began to claw at her six eyes.”
  • A brown spider who has been wounded and is “oozing a strange blue liquid” dies. A different spider “began to pump juice into [the dead spider]” and eats him.
  • Henry, a human Underlander, stands over Ripred the rat as he sleeps, “ready to plunge his sword into [Ripred’s] back,” but the rat awakens at the last second. “In the split second Henry drove the blade down, Ripred flipped onto his back and slashed his terrible claws. The sword cut across the rat’s chest as Ripred tore a deep gash along Henry’s arm.” The scene takes place over three pages.
  • Tick, a cockroach, charges a group of rats, sacrificing herself in order to save Boots. She dies when a “rat sprang forward and crushed [her] head in its jaws.”
  • Many rats fall from a bridge after Luxa and Henry sever it with their swords. The rats plunge into a river below where “enormous piranha-like fish surfaced and fed on the screaming rats.”
  • Ripred, a rat ally to Gregor and his quest, “tore out [one rat’s] throat with his teeth while his back feet blinded the second. In another flash, both rats lay dead.”
  • Gorger, king of the rats, using his tail, “slashed poor Gox (a friendly spider) in half.”
  • Gregor jumps off a cliff, and many rats follow him over the edge, as does the Underlander Henry. A bat dives down and saves Gregor, who sees “the rats beginning to burst apart on the rocks below,” and just before Henry hits the rocks, Gregor turns away. The scene is described over three pages.
  • Gregor falls off of a cliff and nearly breaks his nose when caught by Ares the bat: “At that moment, Gregor slammed into something. ‘I’m dead,’ he thought, but he didn’t feel dead because his nose hurt so badly and his mouth was full of fur. Then he had the sensation of rising and he knew he was on Ares’s back.”
  • Gregor attempts to help a wounded bat by stitching its wing. “He cleaned off [the bat’s] wound as well as he could and applied an ointment she told him would numb the area. Then, with great trepidation, he began to sew up the rip. He would have liked to move quickly, but it was slow, careful work mending the wing. Aurora (the bat) tried to sit motionless, but kept reacting to the pain involuntarily. ‘Sorry, I’m sorry,’ he kept saying. ‘No, I am fine,’ she would reply. But he could tell it hurt a lot.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None.

 Language

  • Several times, Boots declares that she has pooped herself and needs to be changed.

 Supernatural

  • Gregor’s neighbor, Mrs. Cormaci, is known to read tarot cards for people.
  • A reference is made to Nostradamus the soothsayer.
  • Central to the plot is a series of ancient prophecies from the half-sane founder of Regalia, Bartholomew of Sandwich. Pertinent to this book is the Prophecy of Gray: “Two over, two under, of royal descent, Two flyers, two crawlers, two spinners assent. One gnawer beside and one lost up ahead. And eight will be left when we count up the dead. The last who will die must decide where he stands. The fate of the eight is contained in his hands. So bid him take care, bid him look where he leaps, As life may be death and death life again reaps.”

 Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Iron Widow

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expects—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving, yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynistic way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Iron Widow is not only about Zetian avenging her sister’s death, but about showing girls that they can—and should—grow up to be more than just a sacrifice for the advancement of men, and to aspire to be something more than the perfect subservient. Zetian faces very complex problems, in which she is constantly forced to choose between what is safe for her as a woman and what is fair to her as a human. Zetian is a powerhouse, who is a bit hotheaded, but she is extremely justice oriented. She balances power, strength, and the desire for companionship throughout the duration of the story. Though she is extreme in her actions, she is relatable in her thoughts; she is a strong-willed, independent girl that will stop at nothing to release herself and other women in her world from the shackles of the system that holds them back. She handles things violently and with no regard for consequences, but in her world, it’s her only option. Iron Widow is written from the perspective of such an intense, passionate character that it’s impossible not to root for her from start to finish.

Xiran Jay Zhao successfully writes a strong female lead who doesn’t yield to anyone or anything. Unlike most protagonists, Zetian is not worried about fighting fair, she’s focused on fighting to win. She campaigns ruthlessly for her own freedom, though she is often faced with painful and terrifying consequences for both her and her family. Zetian is merciless to those who have shown her no mercy, whereas traditional female roles may have been forgiving. She is ruthless in her pursuit of liberation for the women of her world and does not draw moral “lines” that she will not cross, which allows her to fight the system that has held her down simply because she was born a girl. Plus, she is not worried about who is caught in the crossfire. Zetian is violent in a way that only traditional male characters have been allowed to be, which may be shocking to some readers.

Iron Widow is a violent science fiction book. It is set during a tumultuous time and features people who are very rough around the edges, so both the fight scenes and the inner dialogue of the protagonist are often brutal and unforgiving. However, because the nature of the fighting style, the scenes are not overly gory or upsetting. Most of the combat takes place using spirit power known as “Qi,” so when an enemy is killed it is often described as a kind of disappearing process which eliminates bloody and grotesque scenes. There are several depictions of murder, torture, and abuse woven in that may upset sensitive readers.

The main theme of Iron Widow is anger against the oppression of women. This creates an emotionally charged story. Zetian is angry from start to finish, and the subject of her hate changes every few chapters. Her anger is justified and makes Iron Widow refreshing to read. Iron Widow will appeal to readers who enjoy futuristic fantasy novels with epic battles and anti-heroes.

Sexual Content

  • Female soldiers are used as “concubines” for the pilots. This is alluded to a few times but not described in detail. Before being matched with a male pilot, the female concubines are given an introductory speech. They are told, “From this day onward, you will exist to please him. . . most importantly, you will not react negatively to his touch.”
  • In order to avoid joining the military, Yitzi, Zetian’s best friend, offers to marry Zetian refuses his offer saying, “Stop pretending like your family would let me be anything but a concubine. . . And that will never work. There’ll be problems when I refuse to kowtow to your disgusting pig of a father. . . when I refuse to bear your son – because I am never letting anyone’s spawn swell up my body and bind me forever, not even yours.”
  • After Zetian enlists in the military, her dad says, “You better be able to pass the maidenhood test. . .” Zetian responds by saying, “For the last time, nothing’s ever been up inside me . . . Stop being so obsessed!” The process of the test is not explained, but it is implied that passing it is a requirement for girls to be accepted into the military.
  • After the “maidenhood test,” Zetian is in a room with other girls. “No one speaks. We haven’t spoken since the maidenhood tests hours earlier by the aunties. One girl didn’t pass… . They took her away. To where, I don’t know. Hopefully not back to her home. Her family would probably drown her in a pig cage.”
  • Zetian and Yitzi are talking in the woods near her house. Zetian is about to enlist in the army and Yitzi’s trying to convince her to stay instead. Then she kisses him. “I grasp his face and close the gap between us. His plea hushes away between our lips. Warmth like I’ve never felt blooms through me. Heat seeps into my blood, and I swear I could’ve turned luminous. Yitzi’s lips are tense with surprise at first, then meld to the shape of mine. His hand lifts up, trembling, grazing my neck like he’s afraid to touch me, like he’s afraid this isn’t real.”
  • Zetian and her first pilot have just met and are in their shared bedroom for the first time. “The heat of his breath on the shell of my ear triggers something visceral in my body. My muscles tighten as if pulled by a string. My breaths shallow and quicken. My blood rushes to startling places, and I have to clench down my surprise.”
  • Zetian and her second pilot, Yang Guang, kiss. “I caress his lips, though what I really want to touch is his crown . . . He takes my hand and kisses the pads of my fingers. . . I draw Yang Guang down into the second kiss of my life. It’s less gentle, less timid. Less chaste. When the hot blade of his tongue parts my lips, I can’t help the gasp that rushes out of me. His mouth moves more aggressively than before, scattering my mind. His armored hand runs down my back. . . He kisses a trail down my neck. I reflexively arch my back. . . I bite back a whimper.”

Violence

  • Zetian plans to avenge her sister’s death. When it comes to her killer, Zetian says, “I’m going to be his beautiful, sultry concubine. And then. . . I’m going to rip his throat open in his sleep.” Yitzi replies, “There has to be a different way to kill Yang Guang. My family has connections in—” Yitzi implys that his family could hire someone to kill Yang Guang or his family.
  • Zetian theatens Yitzi. Zetian says, “If you tip off the army in even the slightest way, I will kill myself when they lock me up, and then I will haunt you.”
  • When Zetian is paired with a pilot, she thinks, “Before I do any throat slitting, I am going to have to be his plaything.”
  • Zetian kills a child in her copilot’s spirit realm. The child represents a younger version of her pilot and once she kills the child, it allows her to exit the pilot’s spirit realm that she is trapped in. “With a howl, I seize the boy’s neck and slam him down over the vines. ‘This is your mind.’ I crush his throat. ‘You’re the one who trapped yourself!’ He gags and shrieks, but I don’t let go. Even when everything screams for me to have mercy and that I can’t kill a child, I tighten my grip… As the light leaves his eyes, the realm destabilizes… I scream as I’m flayed apart as well, bones shattering, muscles snapping, skin peeling. My spirit, set free, rushes up and away.”
  • Zetian kills the male pilot who killed her sister. Zetian “slam[s] him down by his throat, just like I did his child self. I plunge my dagger into his neck, the way I dreamed so long and so often of doing. His screams gurgle, though there’s no blood. Laughing uncontrollably, I keep stabbing. And stabbing. And stabbing.”
  • Li Shimin, the second pilot Zetian is paired with, tells Zetian he murdered his brothers for raping a girl. Then his father came home. Li Shimin says. “One day, I found out some of my Big Brother’s friends were blackmailing her, so I beat them up. Soon after, I came home and heard some weird noises in the room I shared with my brothers. Went in and saw them. With her. And . . . I guess he didn’t realize I had it in me to come for his life. . . [My father] came home before I could get out. Saw what I did. Grabbed a cleaver, too, and came for me. . . I had to defend myself.”
  • When male copilots speak ill of Zetian, Li Shimin fights brutally to defend Zetian’s honor. “Li Shimin grabs his leg, yanks him off balance while completing the turn, then stomps on the highest part of his thigh. There’s an audible crack as his leg juts up to an unnatural angle. Everyone gasps in giddy shock, pierced through by his guttural scream.” The fight scene spans over two pages.
  • A female concubine threatens Zetian Then, the concubine hits Zetian hard enough to knock her to the floor and tells Zetian, “Stay away from my partner you man-killing whore.”
  • Zetian is inside Li Shimin’s mind and see his violent battle memories. “The muffled cries of a young girl, coming from behind a door I approach with equal parts fear and rage. The shrieks of my own brothers as I smash a cleaver through their bodies over and over. The yowls of fellow boys in bright orange jumpsuits as I bash their faces with scabbed fists. The frustrated shouts from my own mouth as electricity shocks through my body while I lay bricks with bloody, trembling fingers. The desperate, slow-building wail of girls in the grip of soldiers as I’m escorted toward them across a docking bridge.”
  • Zetian and Li Shimin torture an army general for information. They waterboard him using alcohol and a towel. “Shimin shoves the tilt table so that An Lushan’s head swings near the ground. I press the towel over his squirming face… Shimin upturns the bottle. Liquor pours out in a rhythmic glug glug glug over Lushan’s smothered nose and mouth. A wet, animalistic shrieking gurgles against the towel. . . Shimin grips the bottle tighter. . . Shimin fetches a fresh bottle of liquor. . . An Lushan opens his mouth to spew something else, but I silence him with the towel, like he tried so hard to silence me. Shimin unleashes a nonstop deluge of the liquor once used to break his mind. An Lushan’s last words drown in wet, choking misery.” An Lushan dies. The scene spans over seven pages.
  • After Yitzi’s father, Gao Qiu, tries to blackmail Zetian, Yitzi uses his power to harness lightning. “Radiance beams under Yitzi’s fluttering robes. A war cry scours out from the bottom of his lungs. Electric-hot Wood qi, boosted by Earth qi, bursts from his fingers, held like a gun. It streaks across the ether and into Gao Qiu. A smell of roasting flesh blows over on the wind. It’s over in less than three seconds, but shocks enough for a lifetime. The shrieking little girls scramble away from the charred, smoking shape that used to be Gao Qiu. His goons freak out as well, kicking it out of the hovercraft. It plunges into the city, splattering over a random rooftop, triggering another tide of screams.”

Language

  • Profanity is used several times. Profanity includes shit, fuck, whore, slut, ass, and asshole.
  • Zetian says, “There is no such thing as karma. . . or, if it does exist, it sure doesn’t give a shit about people like me.”
  • Zetian is mid-battle and is struggling to remember her past, her surroundings, and what is currently happening. She thinks, “What the fuck is a Chrysalis?“
  • Zetian is confused about her surroundings and lashes out at her copilot, Li Shimin, because she thinks he’s attacking her. She thinks, “I am also absolutely fucking bonkers.”
  • Quielo, another female concubine, is talking to Zetian about injustice against women. Quielo says, “The entitled assholes of the world are sustained by girls who forgive too easily. And there’s nothing I’d like to rid the world of more than entitled assholes.”
  • Li Shimin, Zetian’s copilot, talks about his feelings for a man. He says, “The last thing I needed was another reason for the world to hate me. Though, now . . . Now, I see—it’s all fucking bullshit.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Li Shimin drinks heavily after a battle. He is given large amounts of alcohol to keep him dependent on it so that the army can control him. At one point, Li Shimin “unscrews the flask and swigs it like it’s the first freshwater he’s found after months of drought.”
  • The main character is an alcoholic who goes through withdrawal.

Supernatural

  • The entirety of the book is based on spirit realms and use of superhuman powers and abilities. Characters harness spirit/soul power in the form of ‘qi’ to fight battles against alien creatures known as Hunduns, they are faceless and the size of a building and come in many different animalistic forms.
  • A fight is taking place with Hunduns advancing towards human civilization. “The Hunduns were coming. A whole herd of them, rumbling across the wilds, stirring up a dark storm of dust through the night. Their rotund, faceless bodies, made of spirit metal, glinted under the silver half-moon and sky full of glittering stars.”
  • A pilot by the name of Yang Guang is preparing to meet the Hunduns in battle and defend his home and people. “Through hair-thin acupuncture needles along his pilot seat that bit into his spine, Yang Guang channeled his qi, his life force, to power the Fox. Qi was the vital essence that sustained everything in the world, from the sprouting of leaves to the blazing of flames to the turning of the planet.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Peyton Watson

Daughter of the Siren Queen

Alosa’s mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he’s under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father’s justice.

When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.

In Daughter of the Siren Queen, Alosa and her crew are only days away from being caught by the Pirate King. Both the Pirate King and Alosa hope to reach a legendary treasure that will allow them to rule the seas. However, Alosa’s crew faces many dangers, including an island of cannibals and the lack of drinking water. During this time, Riden helps Alosa try to understand her siren abilities. Unfortunately, once Riden and Alosa begin to work together, most of their fun banter ends. Instead, Riden becomes a submissive man, who stays mostly in the background.

When Riden fades into the background, Alosa’s crew of fierce, capable women are given center stage. Even though they are ruthless pirates, the crew respects and cares for each other. While Alosa is the captain of the ship, she still has enough confidence to leave others in command when necessary. One of the crew members has a six-year-old daughter, who adds humor and heart to the story. Unlike most pirates who are loyal to whomever has the most gold, Alosa’s crew are loyal to each other because of their friendship. The unique perspective of the women pirates makes Daughter of the Siren Queen interesting and enjoyable.

Readers will also get a look into the siren’s world. Alosa worries that her siren half turns her into a monster. However, when she is introduced to her mother’s world, Alosa realizes that the women are not heartless monsters. Instead, their world is full of beauty and love. Despite this, Alosa never loses her desire to remain in the human world. Alosa loves being a pirate, loves her crew, and loves the human world.

Full of friendship, battles, and complicated relationships, Daughter of the Siren Queen is a fast-paced story that takes readers on an exciting ocean adventure. Bloody battles keep the tension high, but Alosa’s crew balances out the action with friendship and humor. If you’re up for non-stop action, and high-stakes sword fights, then Daughter of the Siren Queen is a must-read. However, if you’re looking to set sail on a pirate ship without bloody fights, jump aboard Lintang and the Pirate Queen by Tamara Moss.

Sexual Content

  • Two of Alosa’s crew see her staring at Riden. A girl says, “he looks delicious.” Her sister replies, “From behind, anyways. Can’t judge the man properly until we see the front.”
  • Two of Alosa’s crew members were “whores.” She explains, “They were forced into that life. I broke them out when I witnessed them fighting off a couple of men who tried to take their services for free after hours.”
  • The Pirate King’s keep has a “brothel.”
  • To distract a pirate, Alosa slides “my hands up his arms to his shoulders. . .He crushes his mouth to mine. All intensity and passion.” As she kisses the pirate, she thinks about Riden, who will “pin me against some hard surface, place his hands on either side of my waist, and lean down until all the air between us is gone.”
  • Alosa gets upset at Riden. When he tries to comfort her, she “lunge[s] at him. . . I place my lips over his so quickly, I think his eyes are still open when I reach him. . . My fingers slide into his hair, silky smooth and wonderful. . .” Riden welcomes Alosa’s touch. “His tongue slides in, completely bathing me in sensations.” The scene is described over one page.
  • Alosa and Riden kiss several times. For example, Riden’s “lips brush my neck as he starts kissing his way up to my hairline. My body shudders, an uncontrollable reaction to him. . . His free hand slides around my waist, pressing me into him.” They stop kissing when they are interrupted.
  • After professing their love, Riden and Alosa kiss. “He kisses me softly, languorously, savoring every time our lips connect. I melt under the pressure but manage to yank at his still damp shirt. He helps me take it off. . .Without breaking the kiss, I start to pull him backward with me, toward my bed.” Riden hears a siren’s song and walks away from Alosa. The scene is described over three pages.

Violence

  • There is an overabundance of violence and not all scenes are described below.
  • Alosa and her crew begin killing the lookouts who are watching over Vordan’s crew. “The sound of [Alosa’s] knife slitting across a throat feels much too loud in the darkness. I catch the pirate before his corpse hits the ground.”
  • Alosa and her crew get into the inn where the pirates are sleeping. Alosa puts three men under her spell so they will fight on her side. Then Alosa rams her “shoulder into the pirate who dared to call me ‘the siren bitch,’ sending him over the railing. He screams until he’s cut off with a loud crunch. . .I’m already thrusting my sword through the belly of the next pirate. He collapses to the floor, and I walk over his twitching body to the next man.”
  • During the battle, Alosa sends her “elbow into the underside of [a pirate’s] chin. His head snaps back, and I cut off his grunt by raking my cutlass across his throat.”
  • Alosa and her girls blow up the inn. “The inn still stands, but it’s burning apart from the inside. . . The pirates still inside are burning husks on the ground.”
  • Alosa has Vordan put in a cage. When he protests, “he’s cut off by Sorinda’s fist slamming into his gut. She gags him and ties his hands behind his back.” The fight scene is described over 10 pages.
  • To get Vordan to talk, Alosa puts him under her siren’s spell and makes him hallucinate. “Vordan holds a knife in his hand. He glances at it in fear before thrusting it down into his own leg, the one that isn’t broken. He screams before changing the sound into an angry grunt.”
  • Alosa gets to her father’s keep, where “dead men dangle by ropes from the top of the tunnel… hooks that have been inserted into the mouths of traitors. They are hung up like captured fish for all to see. . .”
  • When Praxer upsets the Pirate King, the king cuts off Praxer’s hand. “Praxer screams as red sprays the nearby men and tables. . .Praxer has sunk to the floor. He muffles his screams long enough to meet my father’s eyes.”
  • Alosa and some of her crew go to an island where they find cannibals. “Deschel runs towards her sister’s remains. Lotiya’s throat has been ripped out. She’s missing a leg and an arm and so much blood. It’s all over the cave. . . Animal-like shouts and growls sound down the cave and grow closer, alerted to our presence by the gunshots.”
  • The cannibals chase Alosa and her crew. “Riden pours more gunpowder into his pistol, takes aim, and fires. The first cannibal in line falls, tripping those immediately behind. . .Riden is busy blocking the tunnel by himself now while I grasp around frantically for my sword. Eventually, my hand finds something hard and heavy. A human femur, I think. I bring it down on the cannibal’s head, which knocks him out instantly.”
  • When the Pirate King tries to take over Alosa’s ship, cannons are fired and “one blow[s] apart a group of men huddled together while the other nicked the mizzenmast. . . Gunfire ripples through the air on both sides. My girls are well protected behind their barrels, crates, rowboats, and other hiding places.”
  • During the fight, Alosa puts men under her spell and causes them to jump overboard. “Men shriek as the eels circle them. The eels like to toy with their food first.” When several of Alosa’s girls fall into the water, she goes in after them. “I reach for the dagger in my boot, launching myself at the eel from the side. Dagger connects first, then my legs wrap around the creature’s body, just long enough for my feet to connect on the other side of the massive water beast.” Alosa kills the creature and save her friends. The battle is described over eight pages.
  • During the fighting, one of Alosa’s crew dies. “Haeli. She took a bullet to the back.”
  • The book ends in a multi-chapter battle between Alosa’s crew and the Pirate King’s crew. Alosa’s father punishes her by shooting three members of her crew. The Pirate King “pulls the trigger. Niridia’s leg buckles, forcing her to the ground. Blood seeping through a hole in the leggings over her knee. . . Another shot fires. . . He has a new pistol, smoke coalescing from it. Reona, one of my riggers, jerks to the right and falls.”
  • The siren’s sing to the Pirate King’s men. However, the men have wax in their ears, so they remain safe. “Many of the men hold harpoons, waiting until the right moment to fling them into the sea at targets. . . Luminescent bodies float on the surface of the water in a tangle of rich hair and blood-stained skin. . . One siren flings herself out of the water, leaping over the boat as a dolphin might, and plummets into an unsuspecting pirate, knocking him into the sea below her.” Many men and sirens die.
  • Roslyn, a six-year-old, is part of Alosa’s crew. When Alosa and her crew are locked in cells, Roslyn is able to get the key. As she is letting the crew out, “A gunshot explodes through the mostly quiet brig. . . Blood spurts wildly from [Roslyn’s] head. And she falls. . . a pool of blood forms near Roslyn.”
  • Sorinda attacks a pirate who has Alosa cornered. “A sword point rips through his stomach. A labored sigh escapes him as he stares down at the metal. Sorinda doesn’t wait for him to drop before yanking her cutlass back through his gut and moving to the next target.”
  • Roslyn’s father attacks the man who shot her. Roslyn’s father has “got Tylon by the shoulders, and he slams his head into the ground over and over. I don’t know how long Tylon has been dead, but Wallov doesn’t seem to notice anything at all.”
  • The Pirate King captures Alosa’s mother. “She is strapped to a chair with ropes. They bind her shoulders to the chair’s back, her thighs to the seat, her ankles to the chair’s leg. Her wrists are bound together behind her back… her face is lightly swollen, starting to show the signs of the beating Kalligan no doubt gave her.” After capturing the Siren Queen, the sirens join the battle and manage to defeat the Pirate King’s men.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of Alosa’s crew members is “a useless drunk most of the time.” When he realizes a girl cares about him, he goes through withdrawals and then stays sober.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes bastard, damn, hell, and piss.
  • A pirate calls Alosa a “siren bitch.”
  • Riden is upset that Alosa used her siren abilities on him. When he yells at her, she says, “You’re being a prick. I did nothing wrong.”

Supernatural

  • Alosa’s siren half gives her magical abilities. “I can sing to men and make them do whatever I wish… I can read the emotions of men… I can tell what any man wants in a woman, become it, and use it to manipulate him.”
  • Alosa tries to learn how to control her siren abilities. “When I take in the water, I become a creature with no knowledge of my human existence, no knowledge of those I care about or my human aspirations. I become what I would have been if I’d never known life above the sea.”
  • Alosa meets a charm of sirens, who show her the siren’s treasure. Alosa’s mother explains, “As soon as we knew there was treasure aboard, we sang to the rest of the men, demanding they throw everything valuable overboard. When they were done, we had them toss themselves in afterward. So we could enjoy them.”

Spiritual Content

  • When the mast breaks, Alosa says, “Let’s pray to the stars we can find a suitable trunk ashore.”
  • Pirates believe that “to not be buried at sea is to be damned for eternity, never finding rest with the stars.”
  • When a pirate dies, the crew “let the remains of Lotiya’s body drift off to sea, buried with the fallen pirates before her. When her soul departs from her body, it will follow the lantern light and find the water’s surface. From there, it will be able to see the stars and fly up to the heavens. Every soul parted from this world is a star in the sky.”

 

Of Mice and Magic

Princess Harriet is uninterested in brushing her hair, singing duets with forest animals, or any other princess activities. So when a fairy tells a bored Harriet about the curse of the twelve dancing mice princesses, she is more than willing to accept the quest. Armed with the poncho of invisibility and her trusty battle quail, Harriet goes to the Mouse Kingdom and quickly realizes there is more to the curse than meets the eye.

Of Mice and Magic uses the story elements of The Twelve Dancing Princesses to create a wacky, action-packed adventure that will have readers eagerly turning the pages. Harriet takes the quest, knowing full well that her line will fall if she does not help the princesses break their curse. As she travels with the princesses to their ball, she finds help in one of the attendees and one of the princesses. However, the witch who cursed the princesses wants the princesses to dance so they can power her magic. The witch is more funny than scary, and readers will enjoy seeing how Harriet convinces the witch to dispel the curse.

While Harriet is trying to break the curse, she realizes that the Mouse King is a meticulous and irrational person. For instance, he named his daughters by the months of the year, and his entire castle is themed by color. His conflict with Harriet about the princesses, and later the witch, gives hilarity to the adventure. Readers will enjoy reading the conversations between these three characters.

Purple and white illustrations add to the wackiness of the book. Drawings with dialogue help break up the text and keep the action moving. Of Mice and Magic shows the value of teamwork and will engage even the most reluctant of readers. Of Mice and Magic is the second book in the Hamster Princess Series but can be enjoyed as a standalone book. Younger readers who enjoy humorous books should also read the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Series by Julie Falatko

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the twelve mice princesses, under the influence of the curse, must give Harriet a hot chocolate laced with a “sleeping potion” every night that she stays in the princess’ room.

Language

  • One of the mice princesses’ dance instructors calls the mice princesses “crazy” because they had learned every single dance. The dance instructors also call their shoes “freaky.”
  • Harriet tells everyone to “shut up” while thinking of a way to escape the Mouse King’s castle with his daughters.
  • The Mouse King calls his knights “idiots” when they can’t decide to cut the rope or climb down the rope to get to the princesses.

Supernatural

  • Harriet noticed that the old shrew, who was a fairy in disguise, did not have a shadow. The shrew fairy’s shadow had been “cavorting with the flickering shadows of some willow leaves, jumped up and came sliding hurriedly across the grass.” When the shrew fairy’s disguise is discovered, she calls her shadow back, and “It fastened itself to her heels and hunched down, looking sheepish.”
  • The twelve mice princesses are under a curse. “Every night, no matter where the princesses are, a door opens in the floor of their room. Whether they want to or not, the mice must climb down, down, into the underworld beneath the castle.” Later, one of the younger mice princesses says they must dance every night, all night. “We can’t not I mean, we stop for a few minutes . . . but it’s like an itch, and you have to scratch eventually.”
  • The shrew fairy gave Harriet a Poncho of Invisibility. “A Poncho of Invisibility is not quite as good as a Cloak of Invisibility…Harriet had to readjust the folds several times to make sure her feet didn’t become visible.” The only effect of the Poncho was that “there was a nasty bit when the poncho was partway on and partway off where he could see Harriet’s innards.” There are no ill effects with this magical item.
  • Harriet figures out the reason behind the curse. “The princesses are compelled to dance. They have to dance, and when they dance over the symbol, it generates magic. . . and I bet there’s some left over for the witch.”
  • An earthquake, one of the measures to prevent the mice princesses from leaving the mouse kingdom, started when “Hyacinth the quail, carrying Wilbur the prince and August the princess, crossed some invisible line. The earth began to dance.”
  • The shrew fairy gives Harriet a charm, as a thanks for freeing the princesses from their curse. “I grant you [Harriet] a very limited charm. You can cliff-dive again safely.” The charm allows Harriet to fall from large heights without hurting herself. There are no ill effects with this charm.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

 Hunt for Jade Dragon

After sinking the Ampere, the reunited Electroclan travels to Taiwan to rescue an autistic savant named Jade Dragon, who has solved the Elgen formula for replicating the electric children. The Elgen want to use the formula to create a race of electric superhumans, enslaving the normal human population to do their bidding. Jade Dragon is heavily guarded within the most secure Starxource plant in the world, and the Electroclan has lost their element of surprise. Hatch knows the Electroclan plans to rescue Jade Dragon and has concentrated much of his force in Taiwan to combat them.

Yet, the most challenging aspect for Michael in this book is the repercussions of fighting an all-out war against the Elgen. Sticking to the right choice isn’t so easy when other lives become casualties—like Wade and the crew of the Ampere who died when it sunk. Despite the Electroclan’s efforts to stop Hatch’s evil schemes, they have been branded terrorists. Simon, one of the resistance’s leaders, reminds Michael of a difficult lesson, “As you saw in Peru, you were not celebrated for liberating their country—you were demonized. That is often the way of heroes. Heroes are heroes precisely because they are willing to do what everyone else won’t—oppose the popular voice. But we will know what you have done. And in your heart, so will you.”

Hunt for Jade Dragon is not as action-packed as the previous books. Most of the novel covers the logistics of traveling to Taiwan and rescuing Jade Dragon. The focus on the capture and backup plans may be hard to follow at times. The book takes on a more “war-like” feel as the Electroclan use their powers to take down Hatch’s vast network of soldiers and artillery. This book moves the Electroclan’s battle from a personal scale to a global one, which may make it less relatable to readers.

Nevertheless, the story deepens the character development as the characters continue to reflect on Wade’s death. In addition, the Electroclan makes a stop in California to bring Nichelle with them. Most of them hate her due to the way she used to torment them in the academy, but their willingness to forgive her shows how two enemies can become allies against a greater evil. While Hunt for Jade Dragon can feel like a repeat of the break-in, rescue, break-out plot from the earlier Michael Vey novels, the character development that Michael and the rest of the Electroclan undergo is the true heart of this story.

Sexual Content

  • After they have a makeshift prom, Taylor and Michael kiss. “She leaned forward and we kissed. We must have kissed for a long time because Mrs. Ridley came to the door and neither of us even noticed her until she cleared her throat.”
  • After Jack saves her when she is shot, Nichelle kisses Jack on the cheek.

Violence

  • Jack reflects on a time he went to Wade’s house. “I didn’t get along with his father, so I usually just went around the back and climbed in through Wade’s window. This time, after I climbed inside, I couldn’t find Wade. Then I heard him. He was in his closet. There was blood all over the floor and his face and his eyes were nearly swollen shut. His father had almost beaten him to death.”
  • After Wade’s father beats him, Jack “went out looking for his dad. His father was a little man. He was drunk, sitting on the floor in the hall. The dude came at me with a bottle. I was crazy mad. I knocked him down, then started wailing on him. Then, Wade shouted, ‘Stop! Please stop.’ He had crawled out of his room to save his father. If it wasn’t for Wade, I might have killed that drunk. I was so pumped with adrenaline that I lifted the guy with one hand and shoved him against the wall. I told him if he ever touched Wade again that the next time I wouldn’t stop.”
  • The kids still loyal to Hatch, Torstyn, Bryan, Quentin, and Kylee, talk about the next time they meet Michael. Bryan says, “I’m going to melt his brain into a little puddle that drains out his ears.”
  • Later, the same kids use their powers on innocent people. Kylee sees an overweight man. “The man set his tray on the table, then pulled out a chair to sit. As he began sitting, Kylee reached out. She magnetized, pulling the chair out from under the man. He fell back onto the ground, hitting his head on the chair and pulling the tray on top of himself. The teens laughed.”
  • Trying to one up Kylee, Tara “held up her hand, her palm facing the man, who was now standing back up, his face bright red with embarrassment. Suddenly several women standing next to the man screamed. One fainted. Almost everyone around him ran except a few who held chairs up, as if warding him off. Then people began pelting him with trays and food. The confused man ran from the courtyard.” People were afraid of the man because Tara “made everyone around him think he’s the thing they fear most.”
  • After someone talks with Tara, Torstyn uses his powers on him. “The redhead took one step toward Torstyn, then froze. His mouth fell open and he grabbed his head, which was turning bright red. Then the blood vessels in his eyes began bursting. . . The kid fell to his side, convulsing. Kylee grimaced as the kid vomited.”
  • Elgen soldiers capture the kids with Nichelle’s help. She uses her powers against the kids. Michael and Ian are the first to feel her sapping their energy. Michael fights back. “I began pulsing and pushing against Nichelle until I heard her scream.” Then, the guards tell the kids that they’re going to kill them, starting with Mckenna, because the guards are holding a gun to her head.
  • Guards restrain Michael. “A guard grabbed my wrists and pulled them up while another guard handcuffed me, then strapped a RESAT over my chest and turned it on. So much pain shot through my body that I fell to my side, unable to breathe.”
  • Jack tries to punch Nichelle. “As we walked past Nichelle, Jack lunged at her. One of the guards caught him and slugged him in the stomach. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath.”
  • Taylor’s sister, Tara, takes Taylor to be tortured for information. Taylor reboots her and attempts to escape, but the guards turn on Taylor’s RESAT to stop her. “While Tara was still confused, Taylor lunged at her, pushing her up against the wall. Then they both fell to the floor, wrestling… Taylor suddenly screamed as she fell back from Tara. Her RESAT was squealing and the lights were flashing in rapid succession…. Tara stood, wiping her face. There was blood on her hand. She walked out of the cell, leaving Taylor screaming in pain.”
  • A doctor tortured Michael with needles. “He poked another needle into the skin between my neck and clavicle. It felt as if a live high-voltage electric wire had been inserted through my body. I screamed. The man seemed intrigued by my reaction. . . He inserted another needle near my groin. The electricity created a triangular current that contracted my stomach muscles. I felt as if I was going to vomit. Sweat streamed down the sides of my face, and my hair and skin were completely drenched. My eyes felt locked shut.”
  • When they rescue Jack, it’s evident that he’s been beaten by the soldiers. Michael says, “I was horrified. From my glow I could see that the Elgen guards had severely beaten him. Both of his eyes were swollen and he had a huge contusion under his left eye.”
  • While escaping, Nichelle is shot but survives. “Just then a bullet burst through the center of the boat, grazing Nichelle. She fell down into the water. Jack grabbed her and lifted her as the water around us began to darken with her blood.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

  • Quentin calls Michael “a twitching little dork.”
  • Ian uses his powers to monitor Nichelle’s heartbeat. Because he can see through her body, Nichelle says, “You watch everything, you pervert.”

 Supernatural

  • There are seventeen electric children in the series. Each one has a different electricity-related power including the ability to create light, heat, magnetism, or lightning. Others can interfere with electrical equipment. Some of the kids can manipulate electrical signals within the body that allow them to read minds, take away pain, and create emotional responses such as fear.

 Spiritual Content

  • Ostin says to Michael, “Something’s really been bothering me. . . I know Hatch is a demon and all that, but what if he’s right about making an electric species. . . Everything evolves. That’s how nature survives. What if an electric species is the natural evolution of humans? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we didn’t have to worry about electricity anymore?” Afterward, Michael wonders, “What if the devil was right?”
  • Hatch says that their global Starxource operation will reduce the population by “biblical proportions.” He continues to describe the plan with this metaphor. “We are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse prophesized to bring about the end of man’s history.”

by Madison Shooter

Maya and the Rising Dark #1

Maya believes herself to be an ordinary middle-schooler, until she witnesses a tear in reality. Suddenly, the stories her father tells about his travels across the world come true. Maya dreams of a man encased in shadows and is attacked by mythical creatures. In addition, her best friend Frankie discovers she has superpowers.

Maya learns that her father is an orisha, a divine spirit being. Beyond that, her community is a secret haven for orishas, meaning that she, Frankie, and their friend Eli, all have orisha powers. But, the one person Maya wishes to tell about the magic world – her Papa – disappears while repairing the veil, the magical barrier between Earth and the Dark. In his absence, Maya learns from the orisha council that her father is the guardian of the veil, which was created to separate Earth from the Dark and its master, The Lord of Shadows. This evil being with similar orisha-like powers wants to use the tears forming in reality to break through the veil once and for all.

As attacks in the human world become frequent, the orishas prioritize the community instead of sending out a rescue mission for Maya’s father. Maya, Frankie, and Eli decide to take matters into their own hands using Papa’s staff to open a magical gateway into the Dark at Comic-Con. Even though the plan is just as crazy as it sounds, Maya is able to open the barrier, and the three friends journey through the Dark. This sparse and dangerous landscape is populated with creatures of legend and beings called darkbringers, who serve the Lord of Shadows. When the group is forced to fight their way through, Maya realizes the danger that they face. She says, “I hadn’t thought through the consequences of our actions… I knew that our parents would ground us for sneaking out. But that was minor compared to the real consequences. That I might have to hurt many people to get Papa back.”

Before Maya reconnects with her father, she is tested when she is forced to part with her friends, who sacrifice themselves so she can go on. Maya says, “Every kid should be so lucky to have friends who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. Friends who accept you exactly the way you are. And help you be brave when you don’t know that you can.” Maya is able to manifest her orisha powers and distract the Lord of Shadows long enough to free her father and return to the human world, where she finds that Eli and Frankie escaped alive and unharmed. But, the crisis is far from over. With the Lord of Shadows still at large, the orisha council declares that Maya will be trained by her father to be a guardian of the veil, marking the beginning of her next journey.

Maya and the Rising Dark is an action-packed fantasy story with diverse characters. The principal at Maya’s school goes by they/them pronouns and Frankie has two moms. Maya’s story is laced with themes of community and sacrifice. While constant fighting scenes can distract from the main plot, Maya is a resilient and thoughtful main character to follow throughout this adventure. There is reverence for the divine orishas, and even for the Lord of Shadows; when he is about to kill Maya’s father, she displays sympathy for his motives, showing her maturity. Maya has to grow up fast when the responsibility of saving the world falls on her shoulders, but she does so while keeping her rebellious personality and her kindness. The story blends the African heritage of the author into a modern-day tale about a girl from Chicago’s south side. Readers that enjoyed Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi and stories blending cultural legend into modern adventure, should pick up this book! Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston is another amazing story that is perfect for readers who love action and adventure.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maya’s father, Papa, tells her a story about elokos – mythical creatures who eat people they lure in with magical bells. Papa describes his encounter with the creatures. “I didn’t come out of my trance until they stopped ringing their bells, but by then, they had strung me up between two trees and lit a fire. They were preparing to cook me with my clothes and all. No matter how much I pleaded, they wouldn’t let me go.” He escapes them by singing, which distracts them.
  • While searching for her father, Maya encounters the Lord of Shadows, who intends to kill her. “The shadows pressed in around me and felt slick against my face. . . When I backed away, something reached out of the dark and grabbed my wrist. Cold seared into my skin. I tried to free myself, but the thing only tugged harder. Shadows like writhing snakes crawled up my arm—and I knew it was him. The man from my nightmare. Come to make good on his threat to kill me. I clawed at the shadows with my other hand, only they slithered up that arm too. I screamed, and the darkness muted my voice. When I kicked, my foot connected with air. Pain shot up my arms. My hands had gone numb. Frost started to creep across my skin. I wriggled my stiff fingers, and the ice crystals cracked and shattered. Then, with all my strength, I closed my hands around the shadows, which felt like thick ropes. I was sure they would turn me into an ice cube, but I gritted my teeth and jerked my arms back even harder. This time it worked. . .” Maya escapes the shadows.
  • Frankie and Maya are attacked by shadows. Maya “jerked back, but not fast enough. The shadow slashed against my cheek. ‘Ahhh,’ I screamed and stumbled out of reach. Frankie wasn’t so lucky. The shadow snapped around her wrist. She shrieked . . .More shadows grabbed Frankie from behind, dragging her away from me. . .” Maya hit the shadows and they “hissed, low and menacing. I kept swinging until they let go and Frankie crashed into my shoulder.”
  • While running from werehyenas, Maya and Frankie are magically protected by a barrier. Still, Frankie gets hurt. “In one quick swipe, [the werehyena] scraped his claws against the force field that separated us from certain death. The noise was sharp, and sparks shot out. Thankfully, the barrier held, but Frankie stumbled back a few steps. She folded over like he had punched her in the belly.”
  • A group of darkbringers disguise themselves as school bullies and force Maya, Eli, and Frankie into a fight. “Winston charged first, and I sprang to action. With Papa’s staff, I blocked his path. Something happened then that I didn’t expect. The staff started to glow, and a warm tingling shot up my arm. The glowing shocked the bullies too because they froze for a moment. . .Winston shoved me in the chest so hard that I almost lost my balance. I twirled the staff fast and hit him across his knuckles. He yelped and drew his hand back . . . even with Papa’s staff, I got kicked and punched more times than I cared to admit. . . I attacked again with the staff, batting away barbed tails that stung when they tore into my skin… I slammed the staff into shoulders, chests, and ribs to keep them back.” No one dies, and the fight is described over two pages.
  • A tear in the veil causes massive panic and destruction on Maya’s street. “Outside was complete chaos. People I’d known my whole life tried to free themselves from writhing shadows. My ex-babysitter, Lakesha, dodged a shadow only to have another one rope around her ankle. She fell down, and LJ, her cousin, stomped the shadow over and over until it let her go. He helped her up, and they ran away. They were the lucky ones. Some shadows wrapped people in cocoons and dragged them toward the tear in the veil—toward the Dark.”
  • During this chaos, a darkbringer attempts to hurt Maya’s mother. “Looking down at Mama, he smiled, revealing pointed teeth. His razor-sharp, barbed tail whipped around in a flash, cutting through the air, aimed straight for her. . . Before the darkbringer knew what hit him, I cracked the staff against his tail. He fell back, howling in pain. . . I barely ducked out of the way as the darkbringer’s claws swiped within striking distance of my face. Going on the offense, I angled the staff up and slammed it into his chest. A burst of light came from Papa’s staff, and the impact sent the darkbringer hurtling through the air.”
  • The Lord of Shadows invades Maya’s dreams and tries to kill her. The Lord of Shadow’s “ribbons snapped at me, and I batted them away with the staff. When the staff connected with the Lord of Shadows, magic jerked me back into the human world. . .My wrist burned where one of his ribbons had touched my arm. It happened on the crossroads, but the pain was real.”
  • Maya suspects that a gateway to the veil will open at Comic-Con, so she goes there with Frankie and Eli to open a portal and find her father. While there, they are attacked by darkbringers. Maya “dodged darkbringers left and right, sweeping the staff along my body in a wide arc. I knocked down two who tried to double-team me. . . The sound of bones breaking made my stomach flip-flop, but I kept pushing. Eli ducked under my staff and rammed his shoulder into a darkbringer. He headbutted another one, and punched a third.” As the fight continues, “Maya caught a blow on my shoulder. Sharp pain shot down my spine, and I bit the inside of my cheek until I tasted blood. My knees shook. . .Then I rammed my staff into [the darkbringers’] stomach. When he bent over, that was the end of it. I knocked him out cold.” The fight is described over four pages.
  • After entering the Dark, Maya, Frankie, and Eli find magical birds called impundulus. After they destroy their nest by accident, “the birds tucked their heads between their hunched shoulders and charged. They ran straight for us, their wings fluttering wildly and their bloody spines fanned out for maximum damage. . . We dove out of the way, and only two of the impundulu collided. . . My stomach lurched seeing the birds tangled up like that. Each impaled on the other’s spines. There was so much blood . . . The two tangled birds fell into a heap of twisted spines and feathers and blood while the other two took to the sky.”
  • During the fight, “an impundulu’s talons raked across my shoulder, and I bit back a scream as searing pain brought me to my knees. The bird shrieked, coming at me again, and I rolled out of the way. I fell on my back and slammed the staff into the impundulu’s side. The impact sent the bird tumbling into a cornstalk.” Maya and her friends knock the birds unconscious. The scene is described over two pages.
  • While in the dark, vines erupt from the ground. “Vines covered in thorns shot up from the ground and whipped around Frankie’s feet. She cried out as she hit the dirt. More vines were sprouting up everywhere, thrashing and wriggling toward us. I slammed the staff into the ground, giving it the order to burn the vines. . . fire flared to life on top of a vine writhing toward me. Before long, the fire had grown into a full raging inferno that burned across the cornfield.” Maya accidentally sends the fire towards a group of darkbringer children. The kids throw stones at them, but none of them hit, and Maya and her friends escape.
  • Maya thinks about how Frankie’s first mother died, implying that something bad happened. Frankie “once told me about her first mom—how one day she’d gone to the store for groceries and never returned. The police said that her mom had died in a car accident. Now that I thought about it, that didn’t add up, especially since she was an orisha. She was immortal—no accident could’ve killed her.”
  • Eli inadvertently kills a darkbringer who was inside a bug-like helicopter. Eli “whipped out the prods he took from the darkbringer at Comic-Con and slammed them into the glass dome. An electrical current flickered down the length of the prods, then shot through the craft. Long cracks spread across the glass. . . The pilot yanked at the controls as the wings flapped wildly. He pulled up but didn’t get very far before the craft crashed a few feet away.”
  • Nulan, the darkbringer army commander, kills one of her men for disobeying her. “Nulan reached into her black vest and removed a slim knife of her own, her eyes on Papa’s staff the whole time. She flipped her wrist so fast that the knife was a silver blur. . . Nulan had aimed the blade for the darkbringer who went against her order. He stumbled and fell to his knees with the knife lodged in his chest. She’d killed him—one of her own men.”
  • Nulan also tries to kill Frankie. “Nulan removed another slim knife from her vest and sent it flying straight for Frankie’s heart. . . Just as the knife was inches from my friend, I leaped in front of her. Everything was a blur as I raised the staff to deflect the knife, but before I could, the ground shook hard beneath our feet, then it opened up and swallowed us whole.” Maya opens a portal and saves her friends before Nulan’s knife hits Frankie.
  • After returning to the Dark, Frankie and Eli sacrifice themselves in a fight with Nulan so Maya can find her father on her “Flashes of light crackling like electricity shoot out of Frankie’s hands. . . The darkbringers broke their flight path to get out of the way. Most moved in time, but two of them got caught in her blast and spiraled out of control… Frankie sent another blast, knocking the fire-breathing darkbringers to the ground. . . But as soon as she said it, Nulan sent a knife straight through Frankie’s shoulder.” Eli stays with Frankie and tends to her while Maya leaves.
  • Later, Nulan confronts Maya as she’s trying to free her father. She tells Maya that she killed her friends and insults her father. Maya lashes out. “I knocked my staff against the gym floor, and a streak of white light shot out. It hit Nulan so hard that she slammed into the line of darkbringers standing behind her. They crumped to the floor in a heap.”
  • Nulan orders her soldiers to attack. Maya and her father then fight the darkbringers. Maya “ducked to miss a club aimed straight for my face. Before the darkbringer could swing again, I cracked the staff against her knees. When she dropped to the ground, I landed another thrash across her head, knocking her out cold. . .Three darkbringers swung their battleaxes, and I thrust out the staff to catch the blows. . . Something as slippery as a snake lashed around my waist and jerked me backwards. My staff fell and hit the floor, then the thing lifted me up high in the air. I clawed at what turned out to be a darkbringer’s tail. . . As the barb drove toward my heart, I grabbed the darkbringer’s tail, stopping it from striking. The tail slammed me into the ground, and pain shot through my body. . .” Papa kills the darkbringer.
  • The fight against the Lord of Shadows is at first a long conversation, but it comes to a climax when he grabs Papa with the ribbons that make up his being. “Some of his ribbons had grabbed Papa by the ankle and dangled him upside down like he was a child. Papa clawed at the shadows, but the color was draining from his face fast. The Lord of Shadows was absorbing him, killing him.” Maya is then attacked by him, but escapes by shining light on him, distracting him until Papa and Maya escape.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After seeing many strange occurrences, Frankie suggests that they are under the effect of a hallucinogen. Frankie says, “Maybe there was some mind-altering drug in the vanilla pudding at school today. My moms say that the government performs secret experiments on people all the time.”

Language

  • Eli and a high schooler have a verbal altercation where the bully raises their middle finger.
  • There is some name-calling such as fiend, half-breeds, and beanstalk.
  • Frankie breaks a twig, giving away the group’s hiding location to the darkbringers. In response, “Eli mouthed a curse that would’ve gotten him grounded for a month had Nana been here.”
  • When the Lord of Shadows appears at the story’s climax, Maya says, “Crap.”
  • The Lord of Shadows attacks Maya, and Maya’s Papa starts to curse at him using “some words I had never heard.”

 Supernatural

  • One of the main conflicts in this story is the rift between the real world and the Dark, a different plane of existence filled with creatures called darkbringers. A veil separates these two worlds, which is frequently damaged. Maya’s father fixes these “tears” in the veil.
  • Magic exists, as well as people who can wield magic. Papa describes this world to Maya, revealing that he is the guardian of the veil. He describes the veil between the worlds. “Think of it as an invisible barrier that keeps our world safe from creatures much worse than werehyenas.”
  • Papa also tells Maya that she encountered the Lord of Shadows in a dream. He father says, “He’s as real as you or I,” Papa explained. “He’s trapped in the Dark, but he can enter our world through dreams—which are crossroads between our two worlds.”
  • Maya’s favorite comic book is about an orisha named Oya. Orishas are spirit beings that have a variety of dominions and powers. Oya has these powers too. “Oya wasn’t like most superheroes. She wasn’t from another planet, and she didn’t have fancy gadgets. She was a spirit goddess, an orisha. She controlled wind, lightning, and storms, and never lost a fight.”
  • Eli, Maya’s friend, is obsessed with ghosts and talks about them often “Did you feel a cold spot?” Eli asked. “Like when there’s a ghost around.”
  • Eli also tells facts about ghosts. “Sometimes ghosts can inhabit the bodies of the living.” Eli believes that ghosts are responsible for many of the strange things happening before he learns about the Dark.
  • Eli also suggests that people’s strange behavior is a result of possession. “Maybe they’re possessed by evil spirits,” Eli offered. “One day they’ll try to turn us into zombies, and we’ll have to spray them with ketchup to snap them out of their trance.”
  • The book deals with a variety of other mythical beings and creatures such as elokos, orishas, and darkbringers. Shadows have the ability to attack. There are also creatures such as werehyenas and giant bugs.
  • Maya talks about kishi in reference to her dad’s stories. “I told Tisha Thomas that my father fought a kishi, a creature with a human face on the front side of his head and a hyena on the back side.”
  • Maya’s father also tells her stories of impundulu, magical birds. Impundulu “were magical giant birds that had sharp spikes like fishbones on their bellies. They hardly ever flew, but when they did, their wings sounded like helicopter blades.” Later, Maya, Frankie, and Eli fight multiple impundulus.
  • Maya and Frankie are cornered by were-hyenas, humanoid hyenas similar to werewolves. “It wasn’t until they stepped out of the shadows that I realized the hyenas had grown bigger. They stood on their hind legs, and their claws looked like curled knives. Their torsos stretched into a shape that was unmistakable and impossible. These were werehyenas, like from Papa’s stories, half hyena, half man.”
  • Maya’s Papa gives her a staff that has magical powers, which she uses to defend herself.
  • Maya learns that she is a “godling,” someone that has the blood of an orisha. This enables her to use magic. Frankie and Eli have orisha blood too. Frankie’s power is to create bursts of light, while Eli’s power is to turn invisible. Maya is unsure of her power until later on in the story where she creates a portal between the Dark and Earth.
  • Maya learns that her neighbor is an orisha when the neighbor saves them from being kidnapped by darkbringers. “A giant bird made of blue light circled the edges of the vortex. It was fast—too fast, enough to make my head spin. From what I could tell, it was causing the disturbance. Some of the darkbringers tried to escape, but it was no use. . .”
  • Maya learns that many people in her community are orishas or their descendants, as it is a secret orisha community. Miss Lucille, Maya’s neighbor, explains that humans don’t know of the existence of the orishas and magical beings because they are kept secret. “The orishas decided that the magical species must keep themselves hidden from humans. Among them are the aziza, woodland fairies wary of outsiders. The elokos, who are forest-dwelling elves with an insatiable appetite. There are also the trickster kishi, with their two faces, and the adze, who are fireflies that feed on blood. And of course, the werehyenas, who, as you’ve seen, can be unpredictable. There are countless more. It’s the orishas’ job to keep magic from interfering with human development, as the universe intended.”
  • A girl in Maya’s town opens a portal by snapping her fingers.
  • Maya attends an orisha meeting that happens in outer space.
  • The commander of the darkbringer army, Nulan, is an aziza. Maya reacts to her in awe. “The commander moved like she owned the sky, and even a flock of birds got out of her way . . . She was brown . . . She was golden. It took me a minute to figure out that she was from the aziza. . . The aziza were faeries notorious for not interacting with outsiders.”
  • Maya thinks about grootslang, a creature from one of her father’s stories. Grootslang “looked like a cross between an elephant and a snake. It had leathery black skin and ivory tusks that were venomous.”

Spiritual Content

  • Orishas are both supernatural and spiritual beings. One can pray to an orisha for good luck or wealth. When Maya attends a council meeting of the orishas, she describes them in detail. “A light flashed in front of us, and high-back golden thrones shimmered into existence. The council members sat on them in their semidivine state. . .”
  • The Lord of Shadows is considered a divine being of similar class to the orishas.
  • After learning that she, Frankie, and Eli, are descendants of orishas, Maya wonders if this gives them divine status. “I thought about how the leader of the werehyenas had called us godlings and wondered what it meant. Was it like being a god, but not? Like a pretend god?”
  • Maya is shocked when she learns that her father is a full-blooded orisha named Elegguá. “My father was an orisha—a spirit god, a celestial, and not human.”
  • Maya’s neighbor, another orisha, explains how the universe began. “The universe started as a vast blank slate. It existed without space, time, mass, or depth. It was endless and boundless and void. No one can say how long it remained that way before becoming aware, but soon after, it grew restless. Once the first sparks of matter and antimatter cropped up, the universe found its purpose. It would create. The universe birthed planets, moons, comets, asteroids, black holes, and stars. The things it made hummed with energy, and in their song came the universe’s first and oldest name, Olodumare…” The story continues for a few pages, but the most important part is that Maya’s father created the veil.

by Madison Shooter

 

Save the Sanctuary

Former Army rescue dog, Sgt. Rico, a bomb-sniffing Malinois, is on his first mission in Washington, D.C. to save The Sanctuary animal shelter from the evil Mr. Mocoso. But does Rico have what it takes to lead the Pawtriots to victory and save his fellow canines?

Throughout the story, Army values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage—are demonstrated through the animals’ actions. In addition, the importance of putting the mission first is reinforced when Chaps, a disabled military dog, gives his life so his friends can escape. In the end, it is the military’s values that allow Rico to become a hero by helping him realize that “soldiers don’t give up on themselves and they don’t’ give up on their fellow animals.”

Army sayings and terminology are used throughout the story. For example, when Rico feels like giving up, another military dog says, “I need you to embrace the suck.” Each time an army word or phrase is introduced, Rico explains what it means. For example, Rico explains that north south is “Army-talk for ‘nodding your head when you understand something.’”

Each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time which makes it easy to follow the timeline. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face—including the villain, rats and crocodiles.

Even though Pawtroit Dog is an illustrated chapter book, it hits on some difficult topics that may upset readers. For example, the dog catchers, which are called “Snatchers,” chase after the animals with the intent to capture and kill them. However, the animals manage to stay safe because they help each other and work as a team. The overall theme that is reinforced repeatedly is “it doesn’t matter if you’re small, young, weak, or even missing a leg—it’s what’s on the inside that counts. You have to have heart! That’s what makes a true Pawtriot.”

Save the Sanctuary is an action-packed story that revolves around two, three-legged military dogs. Readers will enjoy seeing Rico’s growth from a despondent dog to a true hero with a mission. Readers who want a patriotic story that is told from a dog’s point of view should put this highly entertaining story on their reading list. If readers like Pawtroit Dog, they should check out the G.I. Dogs Series by Laurie Calkhoven, which is also told from a dog’s point of view.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While on a mission, Rico accidentally sets off a bomb. “The explosion was so loud that for two weeks all I could hear was ringing in my ears. . . The blast took away my front left leg and my sense of purpose. And worst of all, it took Kris away from me.” The blast is illustrated and shows Rico and Kris being thrown from the impact.
  • Mocoso was angry with his pet monkey, Simon. “He grabbed Simon by the throat and squeezed him so hard that he turned blue. Simon managed to escape and nobody’s heard or seen him since.” Later, Rico finds out that Simon is at the zoo.
  • In order to intimidate Rico, Hans (a dog) approaches Rico and “presses his big wet snout against mine, but I don’t back down. Then he pushes me. I stumble to the ground because I don’t have the balance I used to without a front leg.”
  • The Snatchers “snatch up” the animals from the sanctuary and take them to the pound. Rico watches “as they snatch up each of my fellow animals with pole nets and lock them up in cages, one by one.”
  • While at the pound, “the Snatcher grabs the helpless cat by the scruff of its neck and hauls it away.” Rico realizes that the pound is a “kill shelter. If an animal isn’t adopted in thirty days, then that’s the end of the line.”
  • The animals break out of the pound and run from the Snatchers. The Snatchers finally locate the animals and try to capture them. Rico sees “the Snatchers tear through the woods and start racing towards us. Three of them have hand cannons that shoot nets. A Snatcher fires one at use and I watch it fly through the air.”
  • The animals make mud balls and hurl them at the Snatchers. “Penny quickly sends another one across the field, hitting another Snatcher in the face and sending him tumbling to the ground.” Rico and Sawyer create a diversion. Rico and Sawyer “weave in and out across the field as the Snatchers try to snag us with their nets.” The animals go into the sewers to escape the Snatchers. The scene is described over four pages.
  • While in the sewers, the animals are surrounded by rats until “suddenly a deafening roar breaks the chaos of the chase. . .The ground shakes and the water ripples as a massive reptile, the size of a crocodile, covered in scars and sludge stomps his way towards us.”
  • A dog named Chaps tries to stop the reptile from hurting the others. Rico sees Chaps. “He’s exhausted struggling to catch his breath and has cuts all over his snout.” Chaps gives Rico his prosthetic leg and then Chaps gives Rico “a soldier’s salute and turns to face the Beast. We all watch as he charges right at the massive reptile . . . I knew that was the last time any of us would ever see Chaps. But he went out like a true soldier and put the mission first.”
  • The animals break into Mr. Mocoso’s mansion in order to find a will. When Mr. Mocoso sees them, “Simon swoops down from the chandelier, sending Mr. Mocoso to the ground knocking him out cold.”
  • Mocoso’s Doberman Pinschers surround Rico, but then his friends arrive and surround the Pinschers. Rico tells his friend, “Franny, tie them up so they can’t follow us. And don’t worry, once Mr. Mocoso wakes up, he’ll free them.”
  • When Franny ties up the Pinschers, she uses an electrical wire. The wire starts a fire, and Rico saves Mr. Mocoso and his dogs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Two mean dogs, Hans and Heinz, call Rico a “three-legged freak.”
  • Heinz calls the animals at the sanctuary knuckleheads.
  • One of the animals calls Mr. Mocoso a jerk.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Red Fox Clan

Picking up where The Royal Ranger: A New Beginning left off, this next installment continues the story featuring young apprentice Maddie and the student-turned-master, Will Treaty. The time has come for the next generation to assume the mantle and become protectors of the kingdom of Araluen.

After passing her third-year assessment as a ranger’s apprentice, Maddie is called home to Castle Araluen. Forced to keep her ranger training a secret, Maddie feels trapped by her role as a princess of the realm and longs to find a way out. But there are whisperings of a new threat to the kingdom. The mysterious Red Fox Clan, a group of anarchists who don fox masks, have threatened Castle Araluen, and they question Princess Cassandra and Madelyn’s succession to the throne. Will they unseat Cassandra and Madelyn and take the throne for themselves?

In order to set up the conflict, the book’s chapters alternate between different points of view —Madelyn’s, Horace’s, and Gilan’s. In addition, The Red Fox Clan introduces new characters and brings some characters from the Brotherband Series into Madelyn’s world. The introduction of characters and conflict slows the pacing because there is little action. However, readers who have already become fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy seeing familiar characters from a different perspective.

Like all the Ranger’s Apprentice books, The Red Fox Clan ends with an epic battle. Even though the Araluen must fight the rebel Red Fox Clan, they do not kill for the fun of it. Several times in the battle, the Ranger Gilan has the opportunity to kill enemy fighters, but he chooses not to. After one fierce battle, the rebels begin to retreat and Gilan stops his men from shooting at the fleeing enemy. While men die, the story never glorifies killing others. Instead, Gilan chooses to show mercy to the enemy.

The start of The Red Fox Clan has little action or adventure; however, readers will be glad they continued reading because of the exciting conclusion. The conclusion does not resolve any of the story’s conflicts but instead ends with a cliffhanger. Readers will be eager to read the next book in the series, Duel at Araluen. Despite having 14 books in the original series, readers will find The Royal Ranger Series’ action isn’t stale and repetitious; instead, Maddie’s struggle varies enough that readers will still be guessing what will happen next. Readers who love action, adventure, and noble characters will enjoy The Royal Ranger Series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maddie and Ingrid are traveling to Castle Araluen when two robbers stop them and demand their valuables. Maddie shoots a lead shot at one of the robbers and hits his bow. “The broken limb flew loose, and then stopped by the string, flicked back and smacked the man across the jaw, raising a bleeding weal there. He cried out and staggered back. . .” The man grabs his knife and Maddie shoots again. The shot “hit him on the point of his shoulder, smashing the bone and bruising the flesh.”
  • One of the robbers “swing[s] wildly with the cudgel” trying to knock Ingrid off the horse. “Ingrid leaned out of the saddle, wielding the riding crop and bringing the heavy stone pommel crashing down on top of his leather cap . . . his eyes glazed and he simply folded up like an empty suit of clothes.” The man is knocked unconscious.
  • When one of the robbers tries to flee, Maggie’s horse “slammed his. . .The impact sent the man tumbling in the grass, rolling over several times before beginning to rise, groggily to his feet.” The man takes out his knife and goes after the horse, so Maddie uses her sling to shoot the man. “The scream was torn from him as the lead shot slammed into his forearm, breaking the bones there.” The men are tied up and taken to the jail of a nearby village. The scene with the robbers is described over 3 ½ pages.
  • The Foxes, a rebel group of men, attack an Araluen army as they forge a river. The Araluen army shoots a volley of arrows. Four of the enemies “screamed and fell. Another volley slammed into the enemy formation. More men fell.” At the end of the battle, the Foxes “were nursing their wounds and reluctant to move from the cover of the trees. . .eleven of their comrades lay where they had fallen.” The attack is described over four pages.
  • The rebels again send men to cross the river. The Ranger Gilan’s “arrow plunged down in a shallow arc and struck the lead swimmer in the right shoulder. The man let out a cry of agony and stopped swimming.” The man survives, but another rebel is “hit in the chest . . . he cried out once, threw up his hands and sank without a further sound.” Another rebel is injured when an arrow hit “his arm with its razor-sharp warhead, and blood started reddening the water around him.” After one man dies and three are injured, the rebels retreat. The skirmish is described over three pages.
  • As the Araluen army flees, the Ranger Gilan stays at the river. When the rebels send a man across the river, Gilan shoots an arrow but the next “arrow was even quicker. It slammed into the unprotected breastplate with the full force of Gilan’s massive bow behind it. . . ripped through the breastplate and into the man’s body.” When Gilan begins shooting “a volley of six arrows” the enemy retreats.
  • The Foxes again attack the Araluen army. Someone shoots at one of the leaders. “The arrow flew in a whimpering paragola, then struck home in the center of the rider’s chest, hurling him backward over the horse’s rump and leaving him lying still on the grass.”
  • During the skirmish, one of the Foxes’ sergeants looks at his men, and “the man next to him fell with an arrow through the top of his leather helmet.” The Foxes quickly retreat into the woods.
  • The Araluen army hides out in an old fort. The rebels stage an attack, trying to climb over the walls. “The bows thrummed with the ugly sound of release, and a few seconds later, six arrows slammed into the men crouched downhill.” As the arrows hit the men, they “cried out in pain and staggered back, clutching at the cruel barbed shafts that transfixed them.”
  • During the attack, Horace and a Fox commander fight. The commander “hacked wildly at Horace. There was a ringing clash of steel on steel as the two blades met. . . Horace’s sword darted out, fast as a striking viper. The super-hardened, razor-sharp blade cut through the man’s chainmail overshirt as if it wasn’t there . . . Horace jerked his sword free and rammed his shield into him. The Fox commander fell backward. . . crashing into the men on the ladder behind him.”
  • As the rebels begin to retreat, “the archers took up their bows again and began to pick them off as they slipped and staggered down the hill. Gilan shook his head wearily, sick of the slaughter.” Gilan orders his men to stop shooting. The battle is described over six pages.
  • Maddie was spying on the Fox Clan. Someone sees her and the men give chase. Maddie runs. As men charged toward her, “a shaggy form burst around the corner of the church, behind the men. Maddie’s horse, Bumper, slammed his shoulder into him and sent him flying. He dealt with a second in the same way, crashing into him with a sickening thud.” Maddie is able to escape.
  • The Red Fox Clan enters the castle through a bridge. “The rider drew his sword and cut left and right, killing them where they stood.”
  • Damon, the Red Fox Clan leader, tries to catch the queen. When the queen sees Damon, he has a “blood stained sword in hand and blood staining his doublet.”
  • In order to protect the queen, Maikeru and two men sword fight. One man “lunged at Maikeru. . . His sword was deflected immediately, and as he staggered slighty, the katana slashed quickly across his neck and he fell, a choked scream rising to his lips. His companion watched in horror. . . Maikeru went on the attack. Once again the deadly katana found its mark and sliced through chain mail and flesh. The second man fell, lifeless to the bridge.”
  • After Maikeru kills several men, the Red Fox Clan leader orders his men to kill him with arrows. “The two bows thrummed almost in the same instant. . . But the other [arrow] slammed into his chest, high on the right side. . . The two men shot again and two more arrows slammed into him, both hitting vital spots.” Even though Maikeru dies, the queen is able to get to safety because of him. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When the queen and her staff are safely closed up in a castle tower, Damon and his men try to smoke them out. When that doesn’t work, a man tries to use a ladder like a bridge to enter the room. Using her sling, Queen Cassandra attacks. “The shot slammed into [the attacker’s] left knee with a sickening crack and smashing bone and tendons.” The man falls to his death. Several men are killed in the same way.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a festival, “barrels of wine and ale were propped up on trestles to ease the collective thirst.”

Language

  • Maddie is upset that a “damn nanny goat nuzzled [her cowl] aside and started chomping.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A man wants to start a rebellion. He tells the crowd, “For thousands of years, our country was guided by a law that said only a male heir could succeed to the throne. . . And it was a law that respected the will of the gods.” A man wonders why people “accepted so readily the concept that this was a law approved by the gods.”

The Search for El Dorado

Towers of gold! Glittering streets! Jewels, coins, and more! Early Spanish explorers heard a story about El Dorado. It was a lost city in the Americans, made of gold. The explorers believed they could find it. Soon the story became a legend, and the legend changed the world. But the city of El Dorado has not been found. . . yet.

The book begins by explaining the Muisca tribe’s traditions and beliefs, which is where the legend of El Dorado most likely started. Then in the 1400s, the Europeans thirst for gold and riches caused explorers to begin searching for the mythical city. In search of a new trade route, Christopher Columbus set sail, looking for a way to get from Europe to Asia. Columbus’s travels inspired others to travel to the Americas in search of gold. The Search for El Dorado explains how the European’s search for gold affected the native people as well as Europeans.

The Search for El Dorado explains the difference between a myth and a legend. “For people who believe, both myth and legends have their own power.” Even though El Dorado has never been found, “El Dorado has become part of our language. It still means something shiny and golden. Mostly, it now stands for an impossible dream that can’t be reached.” Even though El Dorado is a fictional place, the story of El Dorado still inspires people to dream big.

The Search for El Dorado uses short chapters and explains some of the vocabulary, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. Large black and white illustrations appear every 5 to 9 pages that show the astronauts in action. Detailed illustrations give readers a glimpse at the time period’s clothing, ships, and people. While the book is easy enough for young, fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers as well. The back of the book contains a timeline, additional books to read, and facts about Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela.

As the Europeans expanded into the Americas, greed was the root cause of their travels. The Search for El Dorado explores how the explorers negatively impacted the indigenous people. The book focuses on Christopher Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh, and other explorers. While the book has many interesting facts, much of the book reads like a history book. The author explains that the search for El Dorado is “a shameful chapter in the history of the Americas.” Anyone who is interested in history or the colonization of the Americas should read The Search for El Dorado. However, others may want to skip this particular book.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Pirates attacked Columbus’s ship. “His ship was burned, and Columbus had to swim to shore.”
  • Sir Walter went in search of El Dorado’s gold. He took his son, Wat, with him. Wat “was a young man and didn’t always think about his actions. He attacked a Spanish fort and was killed.”
  • When Sir Walter returned to England without gold, “the king ordered for him to be killed.”
  • In the search for El Dorado, “so many natives were killed, tortured, and enslaved that it’s difficult to believe. . .The Europeans rode into cities and villages and grabbed what they wanted: not only treasure, but men, women, and children to work for them.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The legend of El Dorado may have started with the Muisca tribe’s culture. When a chief died, a new leader was chosen. Mud and gold dust was smeared all over a young man’s body. “Now he was the Golden man. Would the great god of the lake accept this young man as the next leader?”
  • The Golden Man took a raft to the middle of the lake and “threw jewels into the middle of the lake. These were gifts to the gods.” The Golden Man jumped into the water and dove down. “He went down, down, down to where the gods lived.” If the gods were pleased, the man would swim to the surface. “The gods had accepted him. . . The Golden Man was now chief.”

The Queen of Nothing

Jude is a mortal who has grown up in Faerieland, but she has recently been exiled back to the land of her birth. Now, Jude lives in the mortal land with her siblings, Oak, a faerie, and Vivi, who is half-faerie. Jude begins to rely on odd jobs to get by. However, this all changes when Taryn, Jude’s twin sister, seeks refuge with them, telling them that she’s killed her husband. Because they’re identical, Jude and Taryn decide to swap Identities and Jude jumps at the chance to return to her home. However, when Jude returns, her husband, the High King of Elfhame, recognizes she isn’t Taryn, and tells Jude that her exile was all a farce and she could have returned at any time. Jude feels betrayed. Before the two can fully reconcile, however, Madoc, Jude’s adoptive father, swoops in, trying to save Taryn from her interrogation, but takes Jude instead not realizing she and Taryn had switched.

Jude plots against Madoc and confronts him revealing that she isn’t Taryn. The two fight, and Madoc delivers a fatal blow to Jude. Despite the severity of the wound, Jude is able to heal and return to the palace, where she is now the queen due to her marriage to Cardan. At the palace, Madoc and his allies strike, and Madoc challenges Cardan to a duel. Before the duel can take place, Cardan speaks out about the ridiculous manner of the monarchy of Elfhame and makes a show of breaking the crown in half. However, the crown is cursed and Cardan transforms into a giant serpent. It’s prophesized that “only out of his blood can a great leader rise,” so Jude kills the serpent and Cardan is reborn and accepted to be the true High King of Elfhame. Jude and Cardan then fully recognize the love that they have for each other and resume their legal rules in peace.

In the final book of The Folk and the Air Trilogy, Black creates a thrilling read full of suspense. The characters plotting against each other make a gripping story that feels impossible to put down. The ending, where Cardan turns into a snake, seems a little out of place and extremely odd given the rest of the trilogy. Despite this, Black creates a story full of characters who seem believable and relatable, with at least one character the reader will see themselves in.

The Queen of Nothing wraps up loose ends which creates a satisfying ending to Cardan and Jude’s tale. The story tells of the heroic achievements of the underdog and emphasizes the importance of remaining strong throughout adversity. The novel emphasizes the idea of finding allies in unlikely places, as well as the importance of resilience. Altogether, Black creates a series that is highly engrossing and deeply satisfying.

Sexual Content

  • Cardan and Jude kiss. She thinks, “I want him to kiss me. My weariness evaporates as his lips press against mine. Over and over, one kiss sliding into the next.”
  • Before Cardan and Jude have sex, Jude thinks, “When I was a kid, sex was a mystery, some bizarre thing people did to make babies when they got married. Once, a friend and I placed dolls in a hat and shook the hat around to indicate that they were doing it . . . But though I understand what sex is now and how it’s accomplished, I didn’t anticipate how much it would feel like losing myself.”
  • Cardan and Jude have sex. Jude fumbles “into what I think is the right position. Gasp as our bodies slide together. He holds me steady through the sharp, bright spark of pain.”

Violence

  • Prince Dain, Cardan’s brother, shoots a mortal with an arrow. Prince Dain “loosed the arrow . . . It struck the mortal through the throat.” The wound is not described.
  • In a three-page scene, Jude fights Grima Mog, a cannibalistic faerie general. At one point, “Jude swings a metal pipe at Grima Mog’s side with all the strength in [her] body.” Grima Mog is injured, but not severely.
  • Taryn confesses that she killed Locke, her husband. She goes on to explain his death: “There was a jeweled letter opener on the desk and—you remember all those lessons Madoc gave us? The next thing I knew, the point of it was in Locke’s throat.”
  • When Madoc invades the castle to rescue Taryn, many guards are killed. “One of [Cardan]’s guards lies dead, a polearm jutting out of her ribcage.” The fight is not described.
  • Madoc and Jude have a three-page fight, where Madoc stabs her. “His sword sinks into my side, into my stomach.” Although the wound is not described, Jude then goes on to describe when Madoc walks away. “His blade comes free, slick with my blood. My leg is wet with it. I am bleeding out.” Despite incurring such a violent injury, Jude is able to heal.
  • When Jude and Cardan reunite, she slaps him. “It’s a stinging blow, smearing the gold on his cheekbone and causing his skin to redden.”
  • One of Jude’s fellow spies tells Jude, “We caught a few courtiers speculating about assassinating the mortal queen. Their plans got blown up . . . As did they.”
  • Jude kills the serpent that Cardan becomes. “I swing Heartsworn in a shining arc at the serpent’s head. The blade falls, cutting through scales, through flesh and bone. Then the serpent’s head is at my feet.”
  • The Queen of the Undersea, Orlagh is shot by a cursed arrow. Madoc tells Cardan, “’If you will not risk the Blood Crown, the arrowhead will burrow into her heart, and she will die.’”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Madoc drugs Jude with “a cloth smelling of cloying sweetness.” Jude “feel[s] [her] limbs go loose, and a moment later, [she] feel[s] nothing at all.”
  • At parties, there is often drinking, especially of “honey wine.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • At Cardan’s birth, a prophecy is given. “Prince Cardan will be your last born child . . . He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne.”
  • When Cardan is a child, his brother instructs him to shoot a walnut off a mortal man’s head. The mortal is described as “enchanted, of course. No one would stand like that willingly.”
  • While in exile, Jude reminisces on her time in Faerie, thinking, “It’s magic I long for, magic I miss. Maybe I even miss being afraid.”
  • There are many faeries. For example, Oak, Jude’s brother, is described with horns and hoofed feet.
  • Heather, Vivi’s girlfriend, texts her about her time in Faeire, saying, “I want to forget Faerie. I want to forget that you and Oak aren’t human. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. If I asked you to make me forget, would you?”
  • While in the mortal realm, Jude explains that “faeries in the mortal world have a different set of needs than those in Elfhame. The solitary fey, surviving at the edges of Faerie, do not concern themselves with revels and courtly machinations.”
  • Jude’s boss, who provides her with odd jobs, is described as  “a black-furred, goat-headed, and goat-hooved faerie with bowler hat in hand.”
  • Both Grima Mog (a cannibalistic faerie general), and Madoc (Jude’s father) are Redcaps, meaning “they have a cap they dip in the blood of their vanquished enemies, supposedly to grant them some stolen vitality of the slain.”
  • When Jude opens Grima Mog’s fridge to put some leftovers away, “The remains of the Folk she’s killed greet me. She’s collected arms and heads, preserved somehow, baked and broiled and put away just like leftovers after a big holiday dinner.”
  • Heather confides in Jude about her troubles. Heather says, “I have nightmares. About that place. Faerie. I can’t sleep. I look at people on the street, and I wonder if they’re glamoured. . . I don’t need to know there’s a whole other world full of monsters. . . But I also hate that [Oak] and Vee have magic, magic that she could use to win every argument that we could ever have. Magic to make me obsessed with her. Or turn me into a duck.”
  • Jude explains that she “had a geas placed on me. It protects me from glamours.”
  • Grimsen, a Faerie blacksmith, explains that he made Cardan an earring that “allowed him to overhear those speaking just outside of range.” However, “it was cursed. With a word, I could turn it into a ruby spider that would bite him until he died.”
  • Jude explains the importance of the full names of faeries. “Among the Folk, true names are closely guarded secrets. A faerie can be controlled by their true name, surer than by any vow.”
  • As the High Queen of Faerie, Jude wonders if the earth can heal her in a way similar to how the land reacts to Cardan. After sewing her wound shut, she notices that in the ground, where she had bled, “tiny white flowers [are] pushing through the snow.”
  • Nicasia, princess of the Undersea, is described as wearing “armor of iridescent scales.”
  • At Cardan’s old house, there is a magical door “carved with an enormous and sinister face” that can speak.
  • Madoc drives a sword into the floor. “A crack forms on the floor, starting where the blade punctured the ground, the fissure widening as it moves toward the dais, splitting the stone.” The throne is split, and “sap leaks from the rupture like blood from a wound.”
  • Cardan, after being cursed, turns into a giant serpent. “The monstrous thing seems to have swallowed up everything of Cardan. His mouth opens wide and then jaw-crackingly wide as long fangs sprout. Scales shroud his skin… In the place where the High King was, there is a massive serpent, covered in black scales and curved fangs. A golden sheen runs down the coils of the enormous body.”
  • Jude begs the earth to uncurse Cardan. “‘Please,’ I say to the dirt floor of the brugh, to the earth itself. ‘I will do whatever you want. I will give up the crown. I will make any bargain. Just please fix him. Help me break the curse.’”
  • There is a theory that the health of the king is tied closely to the land, so when it storms, Jude thinks, “I can only assume that Cardan, in his cursed form, is cursing the weather as well.”
  • Grimsen, a blacksmith, created a bridle that can “leash anything. In fact, it will fit itself to the creature being restrained.”
  • Jude is able to heal a poisoned man by placing her hand on his ankle and thinking, “Wake…I am your queen and I command you to wake.”
  • The astronomer on the king’s council says the stars are unclear. “When the future is obscured, it means an event will permanently reshape the future for good or ill. Nothing can be seen until the event is concluded.”
  • Once Cardan is uncursed, he heals the land that Madoc had broken, “Cardan spreads his hands, and the earth heals along the seam, rock and stone bubbling up to fill it back in. Then he twists his fingers, and the divided throne grows anew, blooming with briars.”
  • Cardan gifts the spies of his kingdom magical masks, explaining, “When you wear it, no one will be able to recall your height or the timbre of your voice. And in that mask, let no one in Elfhame turn you away. Every hearth will be open to you, including mine.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

 

Girl From Nowhere

Ninety-four countries. Thirty-one schools. Two bullets. Now it’s over . . . or so she thinks.

Sophia Hepworth has spent her life all over the world–moving quickly, never staying in one place for too long. She knows to always look over her shoulder, to be able to fight to survive at a moment’s notice. She has trained to be ready for anything.

Except this. Suddenly it’s over. Now Sophia is expected to attend high school in a sleepy Montana town. She is told to forget the past, but she’s haunted by it. As hard as she tries to be like her new friends and live a normal life, she can’t shake the feeling that this new normal won’t last.

Then comes strong and silent Aksel, whose skills match Sophia’s, and who seems to know more about her than he’s letting on . . .

What if everything Sophia thought she knew about her past is a lie?

Sophia is an interesting character, whose parents have taught her many survival skills including how to defend herself, even if that means she must take a life. While Sophia’s conflict isn’t relatable, her story takes the reader on a fast-paced ride through many dangerous situations. Along the way, Sophia meets Aksel, which adds romance and gives Sophia a protector. Eventually, Sophia confides in Aksel and explains how after being kidnapped and tortured, she feels as if she is “tainted.” Aksel helps Sophia realize that she’s not defined by what others did to her.

While Sophia and Aksel are teenagers, they do not act like typical teenagers. Instead, Aksel reveals that he has been secretly training to be an undercover agent. While this explains his advanced skills with weaponry and evasion, readers still may have a difficult time believing that Sophia and Aksel could survive an attack from a trained terror group. The conclusion is one bloody confrontation after another and finally ends with a surprise that has a very little emotional impact. Despite this, Sophia’s story is entertaining and suspenseful, and Aksel is a swoon-worthy protagonist.

Readers who love action-packed, secret agent stories will enjoy Girl from Nowhere. Sophia isn’t portrayed as a helpless girl in need of a man to protect her. Instead, she is a strong character who is intelligent and resilient. Readers who love strong characters, conspiracy theories, and a sprinkle of romance, but don’t want the graphic descriptions of violence should read Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter and Endangered: A Death on a Deadline Mystery by Kate Jaimet.

Sexual Content

  • At a party, Sophia is dancing when Tate “comes up behind me, places his hands on my hips, and sways with me along with the music. . . I elbow him in the chest, right above his second rib.” Then Sophia leaves to line dance with a friend.
  • From the first time Sophia meets Aksel, she feels drawn to him. “His fingers graze mine, igniting flames across my skin.” Often, Sophia thinks about her reaction to Aksel. She wonders, “Why does being around Aksel make my skin feel like it is perpetually on fire?”
  • While out with friends, Tate puts his arm around Sophia’s shoulder. Sophia thinks, “Emma once said memories of kissing Ryan Rice in ninth grade give her the ‘heebie-jeebies.’ This is what I feel when Tate puts his arm around me—the heebie-jeebies.”
  • As Sophia and her friends split up, “Tate slinks his arm around [her] waist.” Tate realizes that he left his keys in the restaurant and leaves Sophia alone.
  • Sophia and Aksel are exploring the wilderness. Sophia’s snowshoe causes her to stumble. Aksel’s “arm is braced firmly around my waist to keep me from falling. He stares down at me, and my cheeks go blistering hot. . .Aksel’s lips press against mine. His fingertips trace my cheek, my jawline, before returning to the nape of my neck. . . Then our lips are meeting again and every nerve in my body is electrified.”
  • After Sophia rejects Tate, a rumor goes around that she “hooked up with Tate outside the Creamery, then hooked up with Aksel hours later.”
  • While swimming, Aksel swims towards Sophia, and “he wraps his large hands around my ankles and stands up in the water. . .Heat spreads like wildfire across my chest and it constricts my airways, like I can’t breathe . . . He outlines my lips with his thumb. He bends forward to kiss me. . .” Aksel stops and asks about a Sophia’s scar.
  • Sophia and Aksel kiss for the first time. They’re at his house when “his hands entwine my waist, resting on the hollow of my lower back. Gently, he pushes me against a wall. . . An intense heat races throughout my body. . .We kiss until he leans away.” The scene is described over a half-page.
  • Sophia and Aksel kiss numerous times. For example, “Aksel’s hands slide across my [Sophia’s] neck, slipping down my back. . . flames of heat surge across my throat. I feel his pulse, flush against my chest. Our lips hover. . . He pulls me in, wraps his strong arms around my waist, and kisses me.”

Violence

  • After being kidnapped, Sophia is home alone when someone breaks into her apartment. She was hiding when “right before he stepped into the kitchen—pop! He slumped to the ground, dead the instant my father’s bullet penetrated the back of his head.”
  • While walking in the forest, a bear attacks Sophia. “Huffing and grunting, she swats my back, violently rolling me over. My skull hits the dirt. She strikes my thigh fiercely with her paw.” Someone shoots a rifle and the bear runs away.
  • Sophia has a flashback that makes her panic. When she was younger, her family charted a sailboat when a group of men began chasing them. Sophia’s parents tell her to hide underwater. Her mother says, “No bubbles. You have to stay hidden, and that’s the only place! Now go!”
  • When the men get close to the sailboat, “gunfire erupted. . .” When Sofia comes up, she sees “four bloodied bodies floating in the water. Facedown.”
  • While attending school in Africa, the class goes on a safari. While the group was exploring, a truck blockades the road. One of the men gropes Anika and “her brother Peter shouted at him. The rebel hit Peter so hard with his rifle barrel, Peter staggered into the bumper, bleeding from his ear. . .”
  • One of the rebels shot the driver, who “crumpled onto the dirt, dead.” The rebels killed another adult, but when they went to shoot some of the children, the gun jammed. Sophia describes, “I reached into my boot, pulled out my 5-7, and fired twice. The commander dropped to the ground. A rebel shot Katu, so I shot him too, a double rap into his stomach. . .” The school group race to the hospital, but the fate of the injured adults isn’t known.
  • While leaving a restaurant, Sophia sees a man who has been following her. The man is standing next to Aksel’s truck, blocking the passenger door. “Abruptly, the man takes a step toward Aksel, like a tiny squirrel provoking a chained dog. Glinting in the man’s hand is the shining, polished edge of a blade. . .” After a short standoff, the man backs down.
  • Sophia tells Aksel about being kidnapped. While in Istanbul, two women ask Sophia for directions. Sophia “turned in time to see the second woman corner me. Her hand shot out like a viper from the folds of her pleated dress, snatching my wrist with a viselike grip. The first woman threw her shawl over my head, muffling my screams as they dragged me into the alley.”
  • After the two women restrain Sophia, a man blindfolds her and takes her someplace where she “was tied to a copper pipe jutting out from between the floorboards. . . I was scared. I knew I would be sold to a terror group, or a wealthy buyer. . .” A man finally unties Sophia and questions her. “When I didn’t answer, he touched my cheek and rubbed his hand against my neck . . . That was worse than when he hit me. And he did. . . often. . . he made me bleed.”
  • While being held captive, a man named Farhad “pulled out a rusty knife and put it next to [Sophia’s] throat.” The man threatened her, “Tell us who your father is or I send him your head.” When Sophia spat in his face, the man cut her, leaving a scar under her chin.”
  • Sophia was able to get the knife from Farhad. She “swung the knife, cutting him from his forehead to the bottom of his cheek.” Then, Sophia was able to escape. The kidnapping is described over four pages.
  • Terrorists surround Aksel’s house in an attempt to capture Sophia. One of the men throws a grenade. “The floor-to-ceiling glass windows shatter. The trim erupts in bright flames, splintering shards of wood across the room. We throw ourselves to the floor. Aksel turns midair, landing on top of me, shielding my body.”
  • The terrorists begin shooting at both Aksel and Sophia. Aksel “fires twice. Both bullets hit a man’s chest. His knees buckle and he drops. Aksel. . . pulls the trigger again. This time he punctures the man’s neck. A geyser of blood sprays across the foyer.”
  • When some of the terrorists enter the house, “Boom! A flash of bright light, the doors burst open. The force of the exploding thrust me [Sophia] across the room. I land hard on my bleeding leg.” Then “a man lunges for Aksel’s neck. Aksel spins hard around, hitting the butt of his rifle into the man’s face with a bone-crunching sound.”
  • A man is able to capture Sophia and “holds my arms behind my back and wraps a cable tie around my wrists. . . I throw my head backwards with as much force as I can. Crack! The Chechen lets go of me. . .” Sophia is able to use a knife to cut the man. “The semiautomatic drops from his hands as he tries to stop blood spurting from the neck.” The bloody scene is described over nine pages.
  • Sophia reads a report about Anton Katranov, who was an undercover spy that worked under Sophia’s father. Sophia’s father, Kent, found Anton “face down on the floor, arms outstretched… behind him were the lifeless bodies of his two boys. And behind them, blocking the entrance to the back bedrooms, lay the crumpled body of Mrs. Katranov.” The deaths are described over two pages.
  • Sophia gets angry at her parents and sneaks off a train. When Sophia realizes she is being followed, she goes into a crowded club and then tries to leave, undetected. She cuts through an alley and sees, “the bald man. I reverse, but two other men approach from behind me. . . Between them is a girl with long, dark hair, and silver hoops in her ears. . . Now, she stares at me, wide eyed. Petrified. Blood is coagulating around a cut in her eyebrow. Her lip is swollen. . .” Sophia gives herself up, so the men will let go of the girl.
  • Sophia is thrown into a car, and her ankles are zip-tied. Despite this, she is able to “curl my knees into my chest, pivot to the left, and rocket my legs out from my body. My blunt heels collide with the back of the driver’s head.” The car swerves and crashes. Sophia escapes.
  • The story concludes with a multi-chapter, extended description of the battle between Sophia, her parents, and the terrorists. Sophia’s father appears out of nowhere and grabs one of the terrorists, Munich Jacket. “Unflinching, my father bends Munich Jacket’s forefinger so far in the wrong direction that the bone snaps in two. . . With a swift swipe of his HK, my father breaks Munich Jackets’ skull.” There is a blood gun battle where many people are killed, including Sophia’s father.
  • As Sophia runs from the terrorists, she runs across a frozen pond. When the men try to follow, “I turn to see the ice dissolve beneath them too. Their bodies plunge into the frigid water.”
  • Bakami, the terrorist who wants Sophia, finally captures her. “Bakami slides his hand around the back of my neck and pinches my spine so savagely between his forefinger and thumb I nearly black out. . . Slowly, I tilt my neck back then ram my head forward. My forehead collides into his face with a hard crunch . . . Blood gushes from his nostrils, soaking the collar of his shirt.”
  • When Sophia continues to talk back to Bakami, he “traces my collarbone with his fingernail. . . with the back of his hand, he swings the weight of his forearm across my jaw. He grips my neck, pinching my esophagus, strangling me.” Bakami points a gun at Sophia, readying to shoot her when, “A gunshot sounds. Followed by another. . . Abramovich [Bakami] crumbles back against the mahogany desk, blood pouring from the silk handkerchief in his pocket.”
  • Sophia and the secret agents follow the terrorists, who set off a bomb. When Sophia comes to, “my skin is on fire. Hot pieces of metal gash my forearms like fiery embers; they singe my shirt, engulfing the pavement and every nearby surface.” While there are several injuries, no deaths are described.
  • When the double agent is discovered, Sophia’s mother “grabs Andrews by her lapel, flings her around, and shoves. Andrews tumbles backward out of the plane, sucked into the sky.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Sophia is injured, she is given an injection of lidocaine.
  • Sophia’s captor drinks vodka.

Language

  • Damn is used twice. Sophia’s father tells her, “Stop being obstinate and get on the damn plane.”
  • One of the terrorists calls Sophia a whore.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Battle of the Ampere

After sacrificing himself for the successful destruction of the Starxource plant, Michael is lost in the Peruvian rainforest. He’s rescued by a group of natives named the Amacarra tribe, who are also sheltering another one of Hatch’s electric children: Tessa. From Tessa, Michael learns that the Elgen have a fleet of boats, including the Ampere, where the head of the Elgen corporation resides. Michael’s next goal is to track down Hatch who lived through the destruction of the plant and seized control of the Ampere which is his new base of command. But first, Michael must reunite with the Electroclan if he wants to have any hope of taking Hatch down.

Battle of the Ampere is broken into three parts. The first part follows Michael and Tessa’s journey through the jungle with Jaime, their guide, who works for the unnamed resistance against the Elgen corporation. The resistance is headed by someone who Michael calls “the voice.” The voice wants the Electroclan to sink the Ampere to put a stop to Hatch’s plans.

 The second part of the book details the fate of the remaining Electroclan members. The Peruvian government declared the Electroclan terrorists after the destruction of the Starxource plant left much of Peru without electricity. It’s up to Michael and Tessa to rescue them from prison.

Lastly, the book covers the sinking of the Ampere, which puts a dent in Hatch’s plans. Unfortunately for the Electroclan, Hatch still escapes with his life and the other electric children. This book is an important read because the Electroclan is tested in ways it hasn’t been before: losing one of its members. Wade dies during the group’s escape from the Peruvian army. Michael reflects that “Grief is a powerful force that settles in the heart like a dark, heavy fog.” The group certainly feels the weight of grief as they split up; some of them choose to return home rather than continue to risk their lives to sink the Ampere. Michael says that the split hurts him, “not just because I was losing my friends, but because deep inside I really wanted to go home with them.” Even though the decision is hard, Michael still chooses to do what he thinks is right.

Things look especially grim at the climax of the novel when Hatch locks the Electroclan in the engine room of the Ampere. The group decides to ignite the bomb they have with them, sacrificing themselves so that they can sink the ship and take Hatch down with them. However, at the last moment, they are rescued by other members of the Electroclan who decided not to return home after all. Upon reuniting, Abigail says to Michael, “You said not to regret my decision. I couldn’t. If something had happened to you, I would have regretted it the rest of my life.”

Battle of the Ampere is darker than the last installment, but it highlights a worthwhile message of sticking by loved ones even when the odds are against you. When the Electroclan wants to give up, Michael emphasizes that they should not let Wade die in vain by letting the Elgen win. The story addresses the grief that comes with losing friends, but it also shows how to preserve their memory. At the end of Battle of the Ampere, Hatch escapes once again, but the Electroclan have learned an invaluable lesson: they are stronger together than apart.

Sexual Content

  • Taylor and Michael reunite, they kiss. Michael runs to her. They “hugged, then she pressed her lips against mine.” When they kiss again, someone says, “Get a room.”
  • When Jack and Abi say goodbye, they kiss. Abi, “leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. Then she looked intensely into his eyes, then kissed him on the mouth.”

Violence

  • During their trek through the forest, Michael and Tessa are caught by Elgen guards, who torture them with RESATs (devices that are made to paralyze the children’s electricity). Michael narrates, “Out of my peripheral vision, I could see them cuffing Tessa’s hands as well. She was still crying but not struggling. She looked as if she was having difficulty breathing. The RESAT was set way too high for her.”
  • Jaime is also captured. Michael says, “With some effort I looked over at Jaime. He was so still I wondered if he was dead. . . But they tranquilized him. The Elgen only killed when their foe had no value. Jaime had value. They would torture him. They would break him and learn about the voice.”
  • To kill the guards holding them hostage, Michael activates a sentry gun. Michael says, “I got the remote in my hands and moved it around in my fingers. As the first guard reached me, I pressed the button. The entire campsite exploded with machine gun fire. . . I closed my eyes until the firing stopped, the stench of smoke falling low to the ground. . . I dared not even move my head enough to look around to see if anyone was left. . . The Elgen guards were lying all around me, but no one was moving. I looked back at Tessa. She was shaking. She tried to speak but couldn’t. She was drenched with sweat and her blouse looked as if she had showered in it. The RESAT was set way too high. I was worried that if I couldn’t get it turned off soon that it might stop her heart.”
  • The Electroclan (minus Michael and Tessa) attempt to escape from prison in a van driven by Peruvians, but they are caught. Jack is shot in the process. “The transport veered off the road and everyone bounced around in the back. Bullets tore through the front and side windows of the cab, ripping apart the front of the van. A stray bullet hit Jack in the arm . . . As they lay there, dozens of Peruvian soldiers surrounded the vehicle. Soldiers pulled open the front door of the van, then dragged the bodies of the traitorous soldiers out of the cab. ‘Están muertos.’ [They’re dead].”
  • On board the Ampere, the Elgen council votes to execute Hatch. He attacks them by using the electric children who are still loyal to him. “The corridor lights flickered. Then the lights at the end of the hall went dark. . . both guards drew their weapons, the first a submachine gun, the second a Colt sidearm. Suddenly the second guard dropped his handgun and began screaming. His face was red and he was violently shaking his hands in the air. ‘My hands! They’re burning!’ Then, the first guard also threw his gun to the floor and fell to his knees, pulling off his boots…” The two guards lay on the ground writhing and screaming with pain.
  • The kids continue to abuse the guards before locking them in the ship’s brig. Quentin makes the guards strip down to their underwear even though they’ve been burned. Torstyn orders one to crawl inside the cell. “The guard hurriedly pulled down his slacks, screaming as they brushed against his feet. Then he crawled into the cell, whimpering.”
  • When a hostage board member tries to grab a gun, Hatch throws him out of a window. “The guards lifted the man and threw him out. The sound of his screaming could be heard until a distant splash ended it.”
  • The guards also hurt head chairman Schema on Hatch’s orders. “The captain walked up to Schema and pulled him out of his chair, forcing him to kneel, then kicked him in the stomach. Schema gasped, then fell to his side, coughing fiercely. . . Hatch turned around and said, ‘Captain of the guard, I want former chairman Schema hung upside down by his feet.’” Later, while drunk, Hatch visits Schema. Schema “had been hanging for more than three hours and was unconscious. There was a pool of vomit on the floor beneath him.”
  • Michael, Tessa, and Jaime work together to stop a Peruvian convoy that is transporting the rest of the Electroclan to trial. Michael attacks the soldiers with lightning. Michael makes a ball of lightning and “lobbed it into the truck’s cab. There was a flash of blue light, then the sound of a head hitting the dashboard.”
  • Mercenaries use the attack on the Peruvian convoy to capture Jack and Taylor for ransom money. A few of the men argue over how to split the money. One of men pulls out a gun. “The Australian [mercenary] drew first and shot him twice. Then he shot the man next to him. The other three men put their hands in the air as smoke rose up from the campsite.”
  • Wade is killed in the escape. “Jack was kneeling on the ground holding Wade in his arms. There was blood everywhere. As we got to Jack’s side, he was pressing down on Wade’s abdomen. Blood was rising up between his fingers. Wade was shaking and his skin was pale and waxlike.”
  • Michael reflects on Wade’s death. “Time seemed frozen, disjoined like broken sequences cut out of a horror movie. Jack’s hands and torso were drenched in blood and he was screaming in anguish. . . During it all, one of the guards woke and began shouting at us to let him go.”
  • After Wade dies, Michael walks over to a guard. “When [the guard] saw the fierce anger on my face his own expression turned from anger to fear. I had to control myself so that I only shocked him unconscious. Then Zeus and I dragged him out of the clearing into the jungle, crammed leaves into his mouth, and tied his shirt around his face to keep him from making any more noise. We were doing it for his benefit. In Jack’s current state he would gladly silence him permanently. Then, Zeus, Ian, and I dragged the other guards into the jungle. There was no need to tie up the guard who had shot wade. He hadn’t survived Zeus’s blast.”
  • Taylor informs Michael that Jack intends to “go down when we sink the Ampere.” Jack refers to their mission as “a suicide mission” a few times, reflecting his wish to die when they sink the ship. Michael tells Jaime, “[Jack] blames himself for Wade’s death. Taylor told me she read his mind and he’s not expecting to survive the attack. It’s like he’s just accepted this is going to be a suicide mission.”
  • Jack cuts Wade’s initials into his arm. “Jack walked into the kitchen. His arm was covered with blood. . . He held up his wound. He had a cut a jagged line on his forearm below his tattoo.”
  • After the group infiltrates the Ampere, Michael finds the aftermath of Hatch’s torture of the board members: “Two of the cells were occupied. One had an Elgen guard lying unconscious on the floor in a pool of blood. The other was jammed full of people, with a woman hanging upside down against the bars, her long hair touching the floor.” The woman has died.
  • Taylor reboots someone too hard. “The man screamed out with pain, fell to one knee, then to his side, crying out as he hit the floor.” Ostin tells Taylor that she probably gave the man an aneurysm.
  • After sinking the Ampere, the Electroclan celebrates Wade’s birthday. Taylor reads a post from a blog Wade kept. The blog says, “Today, my grandmother hit me again. She bashed me like a hundred times with a wooden spoon, and then with a tennis racquet. I have cuts and bruises all over. It takes all I have not to just haul off and knock her one, but I know they’ll throw me in jail if I do. The last time I stood up to her she called the police, and when they came she acted like a sweet old lady who got stuck with a low-life juvie… Sometimes I feel like this crummy world is completely stacked against me and I want to give up.”
  • Wade writes about Jack’s history in his blog too. “Jack’s been dealt a bad hand too. His old man’s an alcoholic. His mom left him, and one of his brothers is a drug head and in prison, but Jack never gives up and he never complains. . . If it wasn’t for him, I probably would have just ended it a long time ago.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hatch and the kids drink alcohol in a toast to their future successes. Hatch gets drunk and visits Schema in the brig, but Schema is unconscious.

Language

  • The Australian mercenary calls a few of his men “wankers” and “bloody crook[s]” for being cowards and wanting more money.
  • After the Electroclan escapes to a nearby town, the townspeople recognize them and surround them because they still believe they are terrorists. Ostin calls it, “a freakin’ lynch mob.”
  • Ostin tells Hatch that he is “a skid mark on the underwear of humanity.”

Supernatural

  • There are seventeen electric children in the series. Each one has a different electricity-related power including the ability to create light, heat, magnetism, or lightning. Others can interfere with electrical equipment. Some of the kids can manipulate electrical signals within the body that allow them to read minds, take away pain, and create emotional responses such as fear. For example, Michael can make his body electric and is able to absorb the energy from the other children and concentrate it into lightning he can pulse and throw. Taylor can read minds due to electrical brain signals. Ian is blind and uses electro-location to see through walls and solid objects.
  • Tessa, another one of the electric children, meets Michael in the rainforest. Unlike Michael, she amplifies electricity rather than taking it away.
  • The Amarcarra people believe Dr. Hatch is a Chullanchaqui. Tessa explains, “The natives believe the Chullanchaqui is a demon who lives in the Amazon jungle. It appears as a friend and lures people off into the jungle where they are never heard from again.”
  • The Peruvian people have a similar distrust in the electric children. “Rumors spread quickly through the Peruvian military force that eight teenagers they were hunting in the jungle were more than just young terrorists. They were part of an occult group called the Electroclan and workers of black magic – a rumor that gained credence when it was discovered that some of them actually glowed in the dark.”

Spiritual Content

  • Hatch says, “Fate is an excuse for people who are too stupid or too weak to make their own future.” Later he adds, “You can’t fight destiny.”
  • Hatch and Quentin talk about the Bible. Hatch says, “It’s fabulous fiction, really. Hogwash, of course, rubbish and drivel. But every now and then, the writers got it right. Did you know that it prophesizes of us?”
  • Hatch quotes the Bible, “And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. . . The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” Hatch thinks “the seven heads and ten horns, the number seventeen, represents the seventeen electric children. And the dragon gave them their power, as I have given you yours. Just as I will give you thrones and great authority. And the people of the world shall fear you and they shall worship me.”
  • When they bury Wade, “Ostin fashioned a small cross from tree branches.”
  • An innkeeper who shelters the Electroclan says, “I will pray to the Virgin Mary for your safety.”
  • Michael is worried that Jack wants to commit suicide. Michael says, “I don’t know what to do when someone loses hope.” Jaime replies, “you pray for them.”

by Madison Shooter

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