Hammer of Witches
, by Shana Mlawski (Tu, 2013, upper middle grade/YA).
Young Baltasar has grown up in late 15th-century Spain, a time when the Spanish Inquisition was going strong, listening to the stories told him by his uncle Diego--many of which were drawn from the Jewish heritage Diego and his wife ostensibly renounced when they chose to become nominal Christians (it was either that, or living in terrible fear of discovery--Ferdinand and Isabel did not want any Jews in Spain). But of all his uncle's stories, Baltasar thrills most to those of the brave warrior Amir al-Katib, who fought for the Christian kingdoms of Europe, was betrayed by them, and ended his life fighting on the side of the Moors who were being driven from Spain. Or so Baltasar has always believed.
But that's not actually how Amir al-Katib's story ended. When a sinister oranization, known as the Hammer of Witches, dedicated to fighting witchcraft with any means deemed necessary, imprisons Baltasar, he is questioned under threat of torture about Amir. And he intensively responds with a gift for magical storytelling he didn't know he had--and raises a golem, who carries him home.
Where, of course, the nice folks (not) from the Hammer of Witches know where to find him.
Now his aunt and uncle are dead, and Baltasar is on the run. But he's not alone for long--his uncle has passed on a slim golden chain that belonged ot Amir al-Katib himself, and, much to Baltasar's wonder, it summons an Ifritah--a girl who is have spirit, half human, and full of magic. And when the Ifritah, Jinniyah, takes him to Baba Yaga for advice, Baltasar finds that a great evil is about to head west from Europe across the sea...and that he might be able to thwart it.
And so Baltasar and Jinniyah sail off with Christopher Columbus....a journey wherein the little fleet is beset by magical enemies. But Baltasar can answer each magical creature with one of his own; the real evil (obviously to the modern reader) doesn't come until land is reached, and the Columbian consequences begin.
So. It is tremendously exciting, what with magical adventures, the voyage of exploration, the fact that the Hammer of Witches has a spy embedded in the voyage, the mystery of Amir al-Katib (which plays a large part in the story), and Baltasar's own growing control of his storytelling magic. In particular, Baltasar's time spent with the Taino people, who are describe in rich detail, and who seem much saner than the Europeans, is worthwhile reading.
Just about any reader who likes excitement will appreciate the high-stakes, fast-moving story; those who are Readers to begin with will especially appreciate the strong link here between magic and storytelling. It is a fascinating take on the story of Columbus' voyage, one that respects the Taino and gives them equal agency to the Europeans. There is a strong young female character, too, to round things off gender-wise, and to my surprise it wasn't Jinnyah but someone else....
I didn't find it a perfect read, though, primarily because Baltasar is a very distant first-person narrator. He's awfully good at describing (his words made beautifully clear pictures in my mind), but not so good at sharing enough of his feelings to make me care deeply about him as an individual. And, in fact, at one point I actively disliked him--after the aforementioned girl character witnessed the rape of Taino women, it was creepy of Baltasar to kiss her uninvited, and then, a few pages later, jokingly say to her that "we both know you're dying for another kiss" (page 286).
I was also disappointed by the fact that Jinniyah, the Ifritah, doesn't end up having much of a role in the story--I kept expecting her to be responsible for some major twist in the plot, but she never took center stage, and was often shunted off onto the sidelines.
Still, there was much to enjoy, and it was refreshing to read a book whose main character not only embodies the clash of cultures in 15th century Europe between Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam, but offers an unflinching look at the horror Columbus' voyage unleashed on the native peoples he encountered.
For another perspective, here's the Kirkus review
Note on age: This one felt rather tween-ish to me, which is to say for readers 11 to 14. Baltasar himself is fourteen (though, I think, a rather young 14), and a few specific instance of violence, including what happened to the Taino women, pushes this beyond something I'd give to a ten-year old.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher
The Apothecary by Maile Meloy has so many intriguing things to recommend it. First off, the name "Meloy" caught my attention right away, having just finished reading and reviewing Colin Meloy's Wildwood when The Apothecary came out last October. Maile, author of a well received short story collection and two novels for adults, had her first book for kids published in the same year that her
(US and UK covers - both by the impeccable Brett Heliquist...)
I once heard a classical musician being interviewed. He was asked what time period he would most like to live in and he replied the fifteenth century because it must have been such a quiet time that any kind of music or singing was very special, revered, remembered, held in high
I have so many reasons to recommend The Six Crowns series by Gary Chalk and Allan Frewin Jones I'm not sure where to start. The Six Crowns is a highly readable, fantastically illustrated fantasy series that can easily take its place next to standards like Brian Jaques' Redwall series and Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart's Edge Chronicles. In fact, The Six Crowns is a perfect blending of these
MARATHON, by Boaz Yakin, ill. by Joe Infurnari
2012)(ages 12+). In 490 BC, Athens defeated the armies of Darius of Persia at Marathon. An epochal moment in Western Civilization, its aftermath begat multiple legends of a remarkable runner, Pheidippides or Eccles, depending on whose version you read. In some stories, as the Persians were about to land, he raced from Athens to Sparta -- about 140 miles -- in the hopes that the Spartans would lend their martial vigor to the defense of Greece. In others, he ran from the plains of Marathon to Athens -- a mere 24 or so miles -- to bring news of victory.
In this remarkable graphic novel -- a poignant and compelling historical fantasy -- Yakin and Infurnari square the circle, telling the story of both runs, the tale of the son of a slave, his athletic prowess, and his love for family and country.
I have wanted to read The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh since it was first released in 2010. When it came out in paperback this year I decided to buy it and add it to my huge pile of books to read. The premise of a medieval abbey with something ominous buried just beyond the church graveyard and the fantastic cover art by David Frankland - don't miss the creatures in the trees. I have to
DINOSAUR SUMMER, by Greg Bear
(Warner, 1998)(ages 12+) is an intriguing sequel to Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD and a nice coming-of-age story as well. It's 1947 and fifteen-year-old Peter Belzoni lives with his father Anthony, a wildlife photographer, in a tenement (his mother left them for Chicago). There's never enough money and Peter often feels like the grown-up and sometimes out of place with his adventure-loving father.
Peter's not sure how to take it when his father gets an assignment from National Geographic
: covering the last performance of the last dinosaur circus in North America. It's some decades after Professor Challenger et al
. came back from the lost world, launching the "Dinosaur Rush," and dinosaurs are kind of passe.
What Anthony didn't tell Peter is that there's more to the assignment than watching performing animals: the dinosaurs remaining in Otto Gluck's circus are to be returned to Venezuela, and Anthony and Peter will be going along on the expedition to document the event. Along the way, they encounter dangers from humans and wild creatures alike, and Peter comes to terms with his parents' divorce and where he is and wants to be in the world.
DINOSAUR SUMMER offers a likeable protagonist and a great premise, with a creative admixture of fictional and nonfictional dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures.
Oh, and did I mention, the cover and interior illustrations are by Tony DiTerlizzi
The Scepter of Salvation, Book 1
Princess Talamaya turned 18 in the human kingdom of Damar, just like her twin brother. Only when she comes of age, she must wed the king's choice. When her brother comes of age, he's allowed to sit on the council. But everything changes when a wizard pits beast and man against each other in Inherian--all because of the loss of the Scepter of Salvation and she must return it to their kingdom.
Princess Talamaya and her friends, Lady Kersta and Lady Mexia, must retrieve the Scepter of Salvation when her brother is poisoned.Visions plague Talamaya of a world beyond her own, of a destiny she has to fulfill.
But the barbarian king is also after the scepter, and the black-hearted wizard who is trying to gain control will do anything to keep them from retrieving it.
She must free a knight from his madness.
Help a female dwarf escape from the dwarven mines.
Aid an Amazon fighting the Dark Elves.
Rescue even the barbarian king.
Save a crusty old dwarf from the wolves of Elan Pass.
And outwit the dark wizard once more.
Above all else, she must always take the path of righteousness.
Which is much easier said than done.
Here is the old cover!
And here's the new cover for book 2, The Mage of Monrovia!
Mexia has already done much more than most school- trained mages when she and her companions had gone in search of the scepter of salvation. But now one of the apprentices of the evil wizard they had destroyed, has stolen his spell book and plans to take up where he had left off, and she has to try and stop him.
Mexia believes the only way for her to defeat the mage is to become school trained like he was with the eventual goal of becoming a high wizard--the first of her kind in Inherian. But the current headmaster denies her entrance because she's a woman. Though if she can get the former headmaster's recommendation, she may attend.
And that's the beginning of the trouble.
First, there's the wizard.
Then, the immovable headmaster.
And then, the circle of misfortunes.
It all goes downhill from there...
One of the fun things about Indie publishing is that we can change the cover if we want, and I've wanted to do this for a long time, so what do you all think? Top one is the new cover, the bottom is the old cover...
I've also reduced the price for a short time from $4.99 to $2.99 for each book!
B & N
MOONSHADOW: RISE OF THE NINJA, by Simon Higgins
2010)(10+). In this historical fantasy based on medieval Japan, the orphan Moonshadow has been raised as a ninja warrior spy by the members of the Grey Light Order to serve the shogun
and preserve the peace against fractious warlords.
In addition to being a master of stealth and swordsmanship, Moonshadow possesses the "eye of the beast," the ability to see through the eyes of animals. Now, on his first mission, he must put all his skills to the test as he goes in alone to the the castle of a rebel warlord who wants to overthrow the shogunate...
MOONSHADOW: RISE OF THE NINJA is a thoroughly fun, action-packed yarn. Altogether, an engaging story of friendship, honor, and belonging.
First in a series, originally published in Australia as MOONSHADOW: EYE OF THE BEAST.
THE LEVIATHAN TRILOGY: LEVIATHAN (Simon & Schuster 2009), BEHEMOTH (Simon & Schuster 2010), and GOLIATH (Simon & Schuster 2011), by Scott Westerfeld
, ill. by Keith Thompson
. Fifteen year old Alek flees from his home into the night with a handful of retainers when his parents -- the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife -- are murdered in Serbia. At the same time, Deryn Sharp, disguised as a boy, enlists as a midshipman on the British airship Leviathan
. Together, as Europe erupts into war, their lives intertwine in an around-the-world adventure and in ways that they couldn't possibly have imagined...
THE LEVIATHAN TRILOGY offers a fascinating alternate history and steampunk technology, along with action and adventure, and compelling and likeable co-protagonists. Three absolutely terrific, fun reads.
The AIRBORN trilogy, by Kenneth Oppel
, comprising: AIRBORN (HarperCollins
2004); SKYBREAKER (HarperCollins
2006); STARCLIMBER (HarperCollins
At fifteen, Matt Cruse is the youngest, smallest cabin boy aboard the airship Aurora
. Beyond anything else, it is his dream to someday captain a vessel like the Aurora
On one fateful trans-Pacificus crossing, the airship rescues an off-course balloonist, who babbles about seeing beautiful creatures in the sky, before he dies.
Some months later, Kate DeVries, the balloonist's beautiful and wealthy granddaughter, embarks on the Aurora
, to see if she can track down the mysterious creatures and prove to the world her grandfather was not a madman.
Matt is more than willing to lend a hand, and the two begin to develop a tentative friendship, when the Aurora
is attacked by a dirigible belonging to the notorious and murderous pirate Vikram Szpirglas...
AIRBORN is a rousing, swashbuckling adventure and coming-of-age story. The alternate steampunkish Earth, where dirigibles are the basis for air transportation and airplanes don't exist, is convincing and richly detailed. Matt and Kate are believable and their relationship is complex and compelling.
Their tale continues in SKYBREAKER and STARCLIMBER.
LARKLIGHT, by Philip Reeve
2006)(ages 8+). In this steampunkish space fantasy, in the 19th Century, the British Empire has spread across the aether, and has established colonies as far out as Jupiter.
Arthur Mumby and his sister Myrtle live in a rambling house called Larklight orbiting the Moon. Their lives are turned upside down when they are kidnapped by giant spiders and rescued by the fearsome pirate Jack Havock himself. And things get really complicated when they uncover a plot to destroy the very heart of the Empire, London itself....
LARKLIGHT is a swashbuckling romp through a fantastically envisioned British Empire aboard ships reminiscent of those from Treasure Planet
. Art and Myrtle are engaging and dryly funny as they tell the story of how they traveled the solar system and defeated the evildoers...
I have a dear friend who is in London right now studying Shakespeare and I had her ask her mates the names of a few classic books that most kids growing up in the UK read. Kind of like the British version of Little House on the Prairie or Charlotte's Web. Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, published in 1957 and winner of the Carnegie Prize (the British version of the Newbery, but they
By: Terry Lee Wilde
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to enter a fae world? Dark and mysterious? Light and majestic? Awe-inspiring? Terrifying?
Like humans, they all have their own interests, agendas, likes and dislikes.The Dark Fae
They're not Tinker Bell-tiny, or make funny little tinkling bell sounds to get someone's attention.The Deadly Fae
They don't always get what they want but it doesn't deter them from trying. The Winged Fae
They have human desires but magical powers.The Ancient Fae
They can be devilishly fun and devilishly bad.
The Dragon Fae --coming
What would you do if you came across the fae?
"This is one of those books that's a delight from start to finish, quirky but grounded, with characters you'll fall in love with." -- Charles de Lint, author of Little (Grrl) Lost and The Blue Girl
Story: Strange things can happen at a crossroads, and the crossroads outside of Arcane, MO, is no exception. 13-year-old Natalie Minks knows all the odd, mysterious tales about her little town -- she grew up hearing her mother tell them. But even Natalie is not prepared for the strangeness that's unleashed when Doctor Hake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological medicine Show rolls into town with its bizarre tonics and elaborate, inexplicable machines.
Natalie loves machines. She's fascinated by mechanical things of all sorts -- especially automata like the little clockwork flyer her dad is helping her build. And when she finally gets a close look at the machines within the intricate maze of the medicine show, she knows in her gut that something about this caravan of healers is not right... and that Arcane is in grave danger.
Story behind the story: This story about family, community, courage and the necessity of looking evil directly in the face to conquer it is Kate Milford's first novel. And it's getting some enthusiastic pre-publication buzz like this from Colleen Mondor at ChasingRay.com: "I am reading Kate Milford's The Boneshaker and all of you who have heard early Newbery [Award] rumblings about this one would do well to heed them. It certainly has some Bradbury (ala Something Wicked This Way Comes) touches, but also a delightful bit of Wright Brothers bicycle invention/repair, Robert Johnson at the crossroads and Dewey Kerrigan (via The Green Glass Sea). I am most pleased with this one (about one third of the way through) and will have a review in my May column." Order your reviewer's copy now.
St. Martin's Press
paranormal historical fiction
Imagine it's New York City in the roaring twenties and you teach English in a night school for immigrants. Sounds pretty normal, but add in the fact that vampires and all sorts of "Others" are integrated into society alongside humans. Not sounding so typical anymore, unless you're Zephyr Hollis. Zephyr, reformed "Defender", is a "blessed" blade wielding, social activist extraordinaire, feminist, and closet Jazz singer. The vampire suffragette, as she's affectionately and mockingly known, is sent into a tail spin when a series of events beginning with a half dead little boy she finds in an alley on her way to teach one evening. Zephyr's comings and goings include a charming cast of characters including her hypocritically prudish landlady Mrs. Brodsky, roommate with a sixth sense Aileen, socialite and journalist Lily, and the ever mysterious Amir. Amir is not only an "Other" unlike any Zephyr's ever encountered, but also he's flirtatious, sarcastic, and dangerous- a winning combination for an intense budding romance.
Alaya Johnson has written a fast-paced, engaging novel. Her no nonsense, sharp tongued characterizations of Zephyr and Amir make this an enchanting read. The notion of Moonshine being merely another vampire or paranormal fiction novel is taking it a bit too lightly. Though a quirky and supernatural tale, it's also a guise for a more grounded critique on race. Zephyr struggles daily to get humans to see that the "Others", who openly live, work, and play in mainstream society, are still deserving of humanity even if not human.
Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher.
BLOODLINE RISING, by Katy Moran (Candlewick 2011)(ages 10+). This companion to BLOODLINE features the story of Cai, a young thief in 7th century Constantinople. Kidnapped by a rival, he is taken on a slave ship to Britain, his parents' homeland.
There, he is bought by a clan chief, who knew his father, and is put to work spying on rival factions. But those around him know more about his past than they're saying...When it comes time to choose, where will his loyalties lie?
A compelling and richly-drawn historical fantasy, BLOODLINE RISING offers plenty of action and adventure in the exotic realms of the 7th century. Cai is believable, likeable, and occasionally ruthless as he pursues his place in the world.