Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
Fans of fantasy and science fiction have a wealth of good books to choose from in 2022. Following up on our April 25 column, here are reviews of more recently published books that we found particularly inventive and engaging. For younger readers, there is an original fairy tale, an animal fantasy, and the first books in two chapter book series that introduce a charming witchling and a boy apprenticed to a guardian of monsters. For older readers, there are novels and a short story collection that will take them to make-believe worlds to share fantastical adventures with intriguing characters in the past, present, and future.
Alone Out Here. Riley Redgate. (2022). Hyperion.
It is 2072. Leigh Chen, First Daughter of U.S. President Olivia Chen, and other teens (children of members of the Global Fleet Planning Commission) are in California to tour Lazarus, the prototype of a space fleet being built to send millions of people into space to save humankind following a volcanic eruption of Mount Shasta predicted to occur in 18 months that will result in a global apocalypse. When it appears that the anticipated eruption has just occurred, 53 of the assembled kids escape into the ship without a crew of adults. The captain’s daughter can pilot Lazarus, but the spaceship has a minimal food supply and had not been stocked yet with the vegetable seeds needed for the many-generation long trip to its destination, a planet over 5.4 light-years away. With a small self-appointed leadership team making all the decisions, the new society develops schisms. Alliances form and a revolution begins. When Leigh finally takes a stand which may determine whether humanity will survive, what happens is beyond her imagination. (Gr 9-12)
The Armored Goretusk (Leo’s Map of Monsters). Kris Humphrey. Illus. by Pete Williamson. (2022). Kane Miller.
On his ninth birthday, Leo Wilder sees only the words TOP SECRET upon opening his letter from the village elders meant to inform him of his assignment for the next two years. Then, Gilda, the Village Chief, appears and takes him through a hidden door in the Village Wall, which he knows was built to keep the villagers safe from deadly forest creatures (wolves, bears, and wildcats). Reaching a small cabin, Leo is introduced to elderly Henrik, the Guardian, and learns that monsters, not wild animals, roam the forest. As his apprentice it will be Leo’s job to keep both the villagers and monsters safe. Equipped with only a strange Map of Monsters on which lighted colored dots show the present locations and movements of various monsters in the forest, a slingshot, and a pouch of small stones, Leo is immediately sent on his first assignment: Locate an angry Armored Goretusk (a large four-legged monster with an armor-plated back and four tusks) moving quickly toward the Wall and return it to its Festian Swamp habitat. An abundance of grayscale illustrations and the fast-paced, first-person narration of this easy-to-read chapter book will leave young readers wanting to join Leo on his next assignment. (PreK Up)
The Callers. Kiah Thomas. (2022). Chronicle.
Quintus Octavius from Elipsom comes from a long line of Callers, who can conjure things by naming them. Now that he is 13, it is time for him to take the TEST, but no matter how much he practices, he still cannot conjure anything. Unbeknownst to him, his sister, Davinia (helped by their mother, the Chief Councilor), cheats to qualify him. Upset at learning of this deception, Quin retreats to his room where he gets pulled into a magical vortex by Allie, a Caller from Evantra (a continent on the other side of the planet), who shares the true history of Elipsom and Evantra. While in Evantra, Quin also discovers his own special gift. When his mother calls them back to Elipsom (Quin for the induction ceremony into the Council of Callers and Allie for imprisonment), he learns of her devastating betrayal and must take a stand: Turn his back on his family and power—or rescue Allie so they can partner to heal Evantra, and maybe the world, before it’s too late. (Gr 6 Up)
Cress Watercress. Gregory Maguire. Illus. by David Litchfield. (2022). Candlewick.
After Papa went out one night to find ginger root and honey for tea and never came back, Mama Watercress, Cressida (Cress), and her baby brother, Kip, leave their rabbit warren on the riverbank and move into the one-room basement lodgings of a treehouse apartment in an old dead oak tree. Gregory Maguire weaves an enchanting tale with a host of anthropomorphized animals including the tenants of the Broken Arms (an owl, an elderly mouse couple, two songbirds, and a family of squirrels) and some denizens of Hunter’s Forest to beware of: Monsieur Reynard, a sly red fox, and Final Drainpipe, “one shifty menace” of a snake. Adventure abounds—and so does wit—in the short episodic chapters of this animal fantasy complemented by David Litchfield’s colorful, stylized digital illustrations. Cress Watercress is a great read-aloud or read-alone choice. As grumpy Mr. Titus Pillowby Owl, the Broken Arm’s landlord, would say, “Make a note of it.” (PreK Up)
Crimson Twill: Witch in the City (Crimson Twill #1). Kallie George. Illus. by Birgitta Sif. (2022). Candlewick.
Crimson Twill is not a typical witchling. Her dress is polka-dotted not black, her hat sports a big bow, and she wears red gum boots instead of black pointed-toed shoes. Crimson, who lives in rural Cackle County, is going for the first time to New Wart City’s Broomingdale’s, the favorite department store of witches. While her mother deals with a long shopping list, Crimson plans to buy something special with her five gold coins. On the cat floor, she rescues Pepper, a lost puppy according to his name tag, from the saleswitch’s intended Dog-Gone spell (Bromingdale’s does not allow dogs). After other good deeds on the broom and hat floors, Crimson heads for the Moonlight Café to meet her mother, and her unique fashion style becomes the hit of Vera Fang’s Frightful Fashion Show as she chases Pepper down the runway after he escapes from his basket. Birgitta Sif’s lively grayscale artwork is the perfect match with Kallie George’s delightful chapter book series opener full of clever puns and wordplay. (PreK Up)
Echoes and Empires (Echoes and Empires #1). Morgan Rhodes. (2022). Razorbill. Spoiled, 17-year-old Josslyn Drake loves being adored by Queen Isadora’s court. It is the first anniversary of the death of her father (the Queen’s advisor) at the Queen’s Gala, and Joss is again in attendance. After the Queen’s annual speech on sorcery and its deadly consequences, Joss explores the gallery of recovered magical artifacts, interrupts a robbery, and breathes in golden smoke that escapes from a box the thief drops. Unable to return safely to the court infused with magic, she teams up with thief Jericho Nox to purge this accidentally acquired memory magic inside her so he can deliver it, as promised, to his witch employer, Valery. Vander Lazos, Overlord of the Queen’s Keep, proposes that in exchange for Jericho’s killing of a beast who has taken 12 prisoners, he will extract Joss’ magic, but can he deliver? Raw truth shatters secrets and lies as Joss returns to court, her world tipped upside down and her life in jeopardy. Readers will be eager to read the conclusion of this engaging fantasy duology filled with magic, political intrigue, secrets—and lots of plot twists. (Gr 9-12)
The Fog Catcher’s Daughter. Marianne McShane. Illus. by Alan Marks. (2022). Candlewick.
A young Irish lass, Eily, lives with her father in a cottage on the coast in sight of the isle of Lisnashee, which is never visited by the villagers, who fear the wrath of the fairy folk (the Good People) for trespassing on their enchanted land. In midsummer each year, her father, the fog catcher, crosses over to the island to catch beads of mist that provide the villagers with the magic water needed to make cures and charms for keeping away sickness and bad luck. When Eily discovers that her father has rowed out to Lisnashee without his protective charm, she bravely sets out in her small boat, Lapwing. Crossing a storm-tossed sea while chanting a blessing, “A smooth way before me, a smooth way before me,” she lands on the beach. Finding her father in the sand, drifting into a fairy sleep, Eily safely returns them to their cottage with two jars of fairy water. Alan Marks’ beautiful watercolor paintings perfectly set the scene for Marianne McShane’s original Irish fairy tale. (PreK Up)
The Ivory Key. (Ivory Key #1). Akshaya Raman. (2022) Clarion.
This first book of Akshaya Raman’s Indian-inspired duology introduces readers to the kingdom of Ashoka, whose biggest export, magic, is almost depleted. If that news gets out, it will mean no alliances, no armies, and no money. Royal siblings—18-year-old Maharani Vira, who became ruler of Ashoka after the murder of their mother; Ronak, twin to Vira and, unhappily, about to be married off to the highest bidder; Kaleb, falsely imprisoned by Vira for murdering their mother; and Riya, pronounced dead but really a secret rebel plotting against the maharani—despise each other. Temporarily reunited and with recovered pieces of a map leading to the Ivory Key that can unlock the sealed magic quarries their father searched for during his lifetime, each has a different dream to fulfill. They dodge fate and death and uncover special powers, a secret society, and spies as they discover that their heart-pounding quest brings more challenges than answers. Readers are primed for the conclusion to this duology. (Gr 6 Up)
The Ogress and the Orphans. Kelly Barnhill. (2022). Algonquin.
Once upon a time there was a hardworking, kind, and generous Ogress and a family of 15 orphans who loved each other dearly under the care of Matron and her husband, Myron. They lived in the town of Stone-in-the-Glen, where people were friendly and cared for each other until the occurrence of the mysterious burnings of two buildings: the library (was there a dragon lurking nearby?) and the school. Trees died, floods arrived, a sinkhole destroyed the playground, people began locking their doors, and the town’s promise to fund the Orphan House was broken. Meanwhile, the mesmerizing mayor with his glittering smile assured the citizens that he was the best mayor ever, raised more taxes, and hid a dark secret. After an orphan mysteriously disappears and the Ogress is accused of stealing the child (even though the child returns), the town continues its accusations. In this happily-ever-after fairy tale, the Ogress and orphans create a secret campaign to expose the culprit and unite the townspeople as they rediscover what it means to be good neighbors. (Gr 6 Up)
Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Spaces. Zoraida Córdova (Ed.). (2022). Wednesday.
Ecuadorian Zoraida Córdova has organized the 17 tales of magic, love, and superstition included in Reclaim the Stars into three categories: “To the Stars,” “The Magical Now,” and “Other Times, Other Realms.” The authors who contribute to this anthology span the Latin American diaspora: Anna-Marie McLemore, Daniel José Older, David Bowles, Lilliam Rivera, Mark Oshiro, Circe Moskowitz, J. C. Cervantes, Linda Raquel Nieves Pérez, Romina Garber, Maya Motayne, Nina Moreno, Isabel Ibañez, Vita Ayala, Yamile Saied Méndez, Sara Faring, Claribel A. Ortega, and Zoraida Córdova. Their short stories draw the reader into imaginative situations. For example, in Zoraida Córdova’s “Tame the Wicked Night,” teen Aurelio Saturnelio goes on a quest to capture the head of the beast from the Midnight Mountains to atone for turning down the Marquéz Montrose’s daughter’s hand in marriage. In Yamile Saied Méndez’s “River People,” Malena hears the River Paraná warn about her brother, Miguel, entering into an illegal transaction with the devil to rustle cattle. Back matter includes biographies of the contributors to this superb anthology. (Gr 9-12)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).