A sweeping and tragic debut novel perfect for fans of The Wrath and the Dawn and Megan Whalen Turner. This young adult novel is an excellent choice for accelerated tween readers in grades 7 to 8, especially during homeschooling. It's a fun way to keep your child entertained and engaged while not in the classroom.
The Bird and the Blade is a lush, powerful story of life and death, battles and riddles, lies and secrets from author Megan Bannen.
Enslaved in Kipchak Khanate, Jinghua has lost everything: her home, her family, her freedom . . . until the kingdom is conquered by enemy forces and she finds herself an unlikely conspirator in the escape of Prince Khalaf and his irascible father across the vast Mongol Empire.
On the run, with adversaries on all sides and an endless journey ahead, Jinghua hatches a scheme to use the Kipchaks' exile to return home, a plan that becomes increasingly fraught as her feelings for Khalaf evolve into an impossible love.
Jinghua's already dicey prospects take a downward turn when Khalaf seeks to restore his kingdom by forging a marriage alliance with Turandokht, the daughter of the Great Khan. As beautiful as she is cunning, Turandokht requires all potential suitors to solve three impossible riddles to win her hand--and if they fail, they die.
Jinghua has kept her own counsel well, but with Khalaf's kingdom--and his very life--on the line, she must reconcile the hard truth of her past with her love for a boy who has no idea what she's capable of . . . even if it means losing him to the girl who'd sooner take his life than his heart.
- ISBN-13: 9780062674159
- ISBN-10: 0062674153
- Publisher: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
- Publish Date: June 2018
- Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Page Count: 432
- Reading Level: Ages 13-UP
Summer fantasies to keep young readers flipping pages
Sweeping fantasies are this year’s biggest trend in children’s and teen literature—think breathtaking action, complex world building, magical abilities and bands of young heroes who must save the day.
Like any great high fantasy should, Jaleigh Johnson’s The Door to the Lost opens with a series of maps depicting the land of Talhaven and the grand city of Regara, where “magic is dying,” only to be found in the abilities of 327 seemingly orphaned children who have been mysteriously jettisoned from their magic-filled homeland known as Vora.
A young girl known as Rook happens to be one of these magical refugees, and she and her friend Drift survive in Regara by offering their magical skills on a sort of black market. Rook’s particular talent is creating doors—she simply draws a rectangle with a piece of chalk and channels thoughts of her destination in order to open a portal. But one client’s door goes horribly wrong, and Rook lets in a giant Fox, whom she discovers is actually a shape-shifting boy from a snow-filled world. Can Rook and Drift get Fox back home again when they’re not even sure how to get there?
Johnson’s spell-casting cast of young heroes will entertain and endear, and their sweet adventure will help young readers grasp some key details of the refugee crisis in a way that never feels ham-fisted.
MAGIC OF FRIENDSHIP
The latest middle grade novel from Printz Honor-winning author Garret Weyr, The Language of Spells, is an extraordinary tale that meshes real historical events with a winning cast of magical creatures.
As this magic-filled journey begins in 1803, we meet a young dragon known as Grisha in the Black Forest. He’s young and carefree and enjoys eating acorns and playing by the stream—until one day, a heartless sorcerer imprisons him in a teapot. Grisha’s teapot is sold to the highest bidder, and for hundreds of years, he silently observes the world as it changes around him. When his enchantment is finally broken, he’s reunited with a group of dragons in Vienna during World War II. But the lives of the once mighty dragons are now controlled by the Department of Extinct Exotics, an organization that refuses to allow them to return to the forest and instead assigns them strict jobs and curfews. On a night off in a hotel bar, Grisha meets a human girl named Maggie, and the two forge a sweet and powerful friendship built on empathy and honesty. Soon, the two join forces to face their fears and investigate what happened to the city’s missing dragons.
Katie Harnett’s black-and-white illustrations kick off each chapter and add to the classic European fairy-tale atmosphere, and Weyr’s allegorical tale never glosses over a heart-rending detail or passes up a chance for a gorgeous turn of phrase, making this an ideal read-aloud that fantasy lovers of all ages can enjoy.
Puccini’s opera Turandot is based on a Persian fairy tale about a princess who challenges her suitors to solve three riddles in order to win her hand. If they fail, they will be executed. As one would expect from an opera written in 1924 set in the “mystical East,” there isn’t much historical accuracy to be found—but the original fairy tale was inspired by a Mongol warrior woman named Khutulun, who declared she would only marry a man who could beat her in a wrestling match. It is within this Mongol Empire that author Megan Bannen sets her retelling of Turandot, The Bird and the Blade (Balzer + Bray, $17.99, 432 pages, ISBN 9780062674159, ages 13 and up).
Slave girl Jinghua is on the run with deposed Mongol Khan Timur and his kindhearted son Khalaf. Timur wants to raise an army to take back his lands. Khalaf wants to marry the princess Turandokht by solving her riddles and, as her husband, restore his father to power. Jinghua, who thinks both plans are idiotic, is hilariously blunt about her chances of surviving either of them, but less open about her growing feelings for Khalaf.
Bannen plays with time in her YA debut, beginning with the trio’s arrival at Turandokht’s palace and then flashing back to their dangerous journey there. The awkward attraction between Jinghua and Khalaf, plus Timur’s caustic sarcasm, makes this novel surprisingly funny. But after Bannen reveals the utter devastation behind one character’s self-deprecating facade, it’s a relentless rush to the finale as Jinghua tries to save Khalaf.
Bannen’s prose grows ever more lyrical, soaring to match her ambition as The Bird and the Blade arrives at an unforgettable climax.
For some reason, there are an awful lot of new YA novels in which women are endangered or oppressed. Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart is one of the most compelling of the bunch.
Serina Tessaro and her sister, Nomi, travel to the capital city of Bellaqua where Serina will compete for a chance to become one of the Heir’s Graces. Banghart doesn’t spell it out all at once, but Graces are essentially glorified concubines who represent the ideal subservient woman. The sisters are shocked when rebellious Nomi is chosen, and soon Serina takes the fall for one of Nomi’s crimes and is sent to Mount Ruin, a prison island.
Nomi’s storyline has the romantic entanglements and sparkling settings common to YA fantasy, but Banghart presents both with queasy suspicion. The beautiful rooms and pretty gowns of the Graces are mere decoration for another type of prison, and it is impossible to fall in love with a man who might see you as a possession or a tool.
Meanwhile, the all-female prisoners of Mount Ruin are forced to fight for rations, and Serina’s lifelong training to become a Grace surprisingly helps her excel in her new environment. As she begins to enjoy the camaraderie and mentorship of other women for the first time in her life, Serina’s feminine ideal quickly transforms from elegant consort to ferocious warrior. After all, in a society that constrains women at every turn, both roles offer a way to survive.