The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley

Guest Review by Hannah Grant

The story of a king’s daughter battling dragons and other enemies from the back of her father’s old courageous warhorse, this novel is great for juniors and older readers.

The only child of the King of Damar, Aerin is disliked by the country because it is believed that her mother, who died when Aerin was born, was a witch who enspelled the king into marrying her. Aerin befriends her father’s old warhorse, Talat, after an accident ends the horse’s career. She then trains him to be ridden bridleless. Taught to fight by her cousin and friend, Tor, and after finding the recipe for a fireproof ointment, Aerin rides Talat into several battles with small dragons.

When the much feared Black Dragon, Maur, begins to terrorize villages in the country, it is Aerin and Talat who ride out to fight him. Successful but almost killed by Maur’s terrible fire, Aerin seeks the help of a man she saw in her dreams. In the process of recovery she discovers the truth about herself, her mother, and her father’s kingdom; and she learns about the evil plans of an uncle she had never heard of. Can she save her country before it’s too late?

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WebMage, by Kelly McCullough

Guest Review by Hilda

Ravirn, a child of the Fates, is a computer geek trying to pass his college midterms. He is a wizard at hacking viruses and programs.

Ravirn’s Great Aunt Atropos, one of the three Fates, wants to rid humanity of free will using a digital virus called Puppeteer. Ravirn believes in free will and refuses to help Atropos and all hell breaks loose.

Even with the help of Ravirn’s sidekick Melchoir — “Mel” — his webgoblin/familiar, it’s going to be a close call. WebMage is a gripping urban fantasy for adults and older teens.

Americus, by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill

This substantial graphic novel is about book-banning, libraries, the power of fiction (of fantasy in particular), fitting in at high school, losing friends, making friends, and figuring out who you really want to be … for starters. Neil and his best friend Danny graduate from grade eight and start high school with some trepidation. Both are devoted readers of a fantasy series, “The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde”, finding it in both inspiration and escape. However, Danny’s religious-fanatic mother begins a campaign against the books. To say only that much makes it sound like a simplistic children’s tale in which everyone will learn a nice lesson about tolerance and the importance of reading, but it’s a complex, multi-layered story, with well-developed characters and evolving relationships, intended for teen readers and with lots of appeal to adults as well. The problems faced by the several protagonists of Americus go beyond book-banning: religious intolerance, homophobia, bullying, poverty, loneliness, friendship, and first love all form important elements of the plot. There are no simple endings.

Unlike some American graphic novels, the art is very sharp and clear. Snippets illustrating the Apathea Ravenchilde series are interwoven through the story as characters read the books, but these snippets also echo some emotion or event the primary world characters are experiencing, subtly illustrating the way that the characters are able to take strength to endure their real-life problems from the fantasy world in which the stories immerse them. At the end, the stories of the main characters, like that of their hero Apathea, are left in a safe place, but continuing. We know that they, too, will have new battles to face in the years to come, but that they will take strength from their past small victories.

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

This month we didn’t have a “Books Worth Another Look” column in the Village Newsletter because we needed to announce our Family Open House day, so here is a rerun review from back in 2009, before we started putting them on the blog.

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
This is Ook’s pick for anyone who wants a fascinating, sexy, vampire thriller. McKinley won the Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown (outsider, not-quite-human warrior princess slays dragon) and a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword (properly brought up young lady becomes desert warrior hero). McKinley’s skill as a writer of secondary world fantasy allows her to create a fascinating alternate world, where human and not-quite-human and really-not-human-at-all co-exist, not altogether peacefully, in modern America. There have been wars between humans and non-humans, and the country is still recovering. Rae, a magician’s daughter working in her stepfather’s bakery, is drawn into supernatural conflict when she is captured by a gang of vampires and set out as bait for Constantine. One of the most powerful of the vampires, he and Rae, who is only starting to discover her strange abilities, form a cautious alliance against forces that threaten all humanity. And yes, he’s cool and sexy and powerful, and there are lots of other mysterious, alluring men as well. Not to mention Rae’s obsession with luscious pastries, the other way to a girl’s heart.

The Gatekeeper Series, by Anthony Horowitz

Guest Review by Malachi

Hello, my name is Malachi. I am reading the Gatekeeper series (the first of which is called Raven’s Gate), and I love the books, so I have decided to do a review for them. They are about five teenagers, four boys and a girl. They all have special powers to help save the world from an evil force called the Old Ones. They were defeated thousands of years ago by a trick, and trapped behind two “Gates”. But now, people have brought them back into the world. The five Gatekeepers have to come together to stop them.
Anthony Horowitz is a great writer who really knows how to keep readers in suspense. Every time I am done reading a chapter, I really want to read the next one. I hear there is another one coming out… I can’t wait!

p.s. from Ook: Anthony Horowitz is also the author of the popular Alex Rider series of novels about a teenage British spy, and was the creator of and chief writer for Foyle’s War, a British television mystery series set in Hastings during the Second World War.