I am kicking myself over how long it took me to start this series, and I am so glad that I was able to discuss this book with a group of friends, all of us reading and racing toward the end together. “A Darker Shade of Magic” follows Kell, one of the last Antari, a type of magic wielder that can travel between the 4—now 3—different London’s. Kell’s London (Red) is vibrant and thriving, magic is embraced and enjoyed, Kell revered as the adopted brother to Prince Rhy (who is adorable and I love him). Whereas the other MC, Lila Bard, comes from Grey London, where magic has disappeared completely, and then there’s Creepy—I mean White London, whose ruthless rulers enslave magic and drink blood, as one does. The different London’s magic system, the sharp steel of Lila Bard paired with Kell’s steady cool made for an amazing first book in this trilogy, and while it’s a complete story, there are still so many mysteries left to uncover.
This is only the second book I’ve read that’s written in verse, but it’s my first book from this author, so I went into this pretty blind. While I still can’t say anything about the structure of the verses and how that plays into the story tempo, I can say that this was an immensely powerful book. “Clap When You Land” is the story of two sisters who only learn of each other’s existence when unthinkable tragedy and grief pulls them together. The story gives us both sister’s POV so the reader can really see how these two girls, connected by blood, view their world and home, their parents and culture, and how they process grief and betrayal differently. I felt Acevedo captured the different voices of her main characters incredibly well and how she captured their grief, their anger, and just the rawness of their tragedy in an incredible and moving way, but the heavy to the light ratio did seem just a tad disproportional to me come the end.
“Blood Calls” (this was the books previous title) is the story of a man-child, Corbin, and his sarcastic dragon, Blood. Both face prejudice because of their outsider status, and thus use drinking and a healthy dose of withering sarcasm to survive. And they aren’t afraid to fight back against bullies. Which means that Corbin’s war hero uncle can only protect Corbin for so long before his antics and womanizing cause more trouble than his uncle can fix. He ships his nephew off to a sleepy country as the nation’s junior ambassador, where Corbin doesn’t necessarily abandon his drinking, but at least the people there don’t automatically hate him and his red dragon, either. While there, Corbin is able to make friends for the first time in his life, and stand up for what’s right when his adopted country gets invaded, rather than just standing up for himself. He and Blood are able to show that the abilities they have, while considered evil, in the “right” hands, aren’t any more monstrous than any other weapon of war. Don’t let this book’s cover fool you, underneath is a really fun and funny story that never takes itself too seriously, even with the serious topics it tackles. Plus, who doesn’t love a telepathic, sarcastic dragon?
I was a big fan of Mafi’s narrative style in Furthermore, and I am so pleased that Whichwood follows a similar style, with a narrator retelling the story of these children almost like an omniscient reporter. It’s such a fun, and whimsical voice that I love seeing in her middle grade books. And while you don’t necessarily HAVE to read Furthermore before Whichwood, I would highly recommend you do as many of the characters from Furthermore make an appearance in Whichwood, making this book, often times, feel like a continuation of Alice’s story, just as much as Laylee’s. That being said, Laylee’s story is dark and tragic. When your main character is a thirteen year old girl, alone, washing the dead in all manner of decay, you have to expect this to be a darker story than Furthermore, even if that book also had its moments of fear and sadness. But Laylee’s story is… different, and that’s why I don’t think it’s truly a middle grade book.
“Perfect Imperfection” has flavors of Ready Player One meets The Matrix and James Bond with its virtual worlds, mind-machine interfaces, smart AI, and all the sophisticated tech and toys the people in PI get to use. Our main character is no one important when he is alive, but when an accident leaves Billings on the brink of death, he is offered the chance of a lifetime: to “live” in a virtually created world dedicated to benevolence and helping society. The group of PI are virtual super heroes, righting wrongs and anonymously helping law enforcement. The creator of PI has brought together the brightest minds, all agreeing to dwell in this virtual world, advancing and studying in their fields, all while making sure no one finds out about their virtual paradise. That is until a hacker starts seeing the patterns of PI and gets it into his mind that this benevolent organization is going to be his next pay day. Hacker stories are tough because it can be a lot of technical nuance that can be stale to read, and while this was book was easy to understand and it had the potential to be exciting, I struggled to get through the story for the vast majority of the book.
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