The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Wizards of Once. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Twice Magic was written by Cressida Cowell and first published in 2018. It follows the continuing adventures of Xar and Wish as they seek to find a way to defeat the evil Kingwitch once and for all. The novel follows The Wizards of Once (2017) and precedes Knock Three Times (2019), so I would strongly recommend reading them in sequence if you want to fully appreciate them.

Following his previous adventure, Encanto has had Xar locked up in the terrible prison of Gormincrag. He claims that it is for his own good – a way to protect himself and those around him until the witchstain can be removed – but Xar has his doubts. The Drood Commander who runs the prison hates everything to do with witches, and Xar knows that it is likely that he will be locked away forever.

Wish is also having a difficult time. Even though the Stone-That-Takes-Away-Magic has been destroyed, Queen Sychorax is more determined than ever to destroy the Wizards. She also still seems to be thoroughly disappointed in Wish, which puts her in an awkward position. How can Wish learn to use her newfound powers while still keeping them secret from her magic-hating mother?

It’s not long before fate – or, rather, a stolen spelling book – draws Xar and Wish together again. When they discover a spell that reportedly gets rid of witches, the two set off on an epic quest to locate the rare ingredients that it requires. However, their quest will not be easy. With wizards, warriors and witches in hot pursuit, it’s a race against the clock to complete the spell before the three great armies collide…

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Red Winter

Red Winter was written by Annette Marie and first published in 2016. It is an urban fantasy story set in Japan, focusing on a shrine maiden who discovers that the spiritual world may not be as black and white as she was led to believe. The novel forms the first part of the Red Winter Trilogy and is followed by Dark Tempest (2017) and Immortal Fire (2017).

Emi is proud to be the kamigakari. Ever since Amaterasu’s mark appeared on her chest, she has led a sheltered life to ensure that her body and spirit are pure enough to be a vessel for the kami’s power. Although Emi is not sure what the future will hold for her, she is proud to have been chosen and nervously looks forward to the day when she and Amaterasu will become one.

However, not everyone is as keen for the goddess to walk the earth once again. For years, evil yōkai have tried to kill Emi to delay the descension. Due to this, she is regularly moved from shrine to shrine and always protected by sohei – warrior monks. Her final few months as a mortal are to be spent at the remote Shirayuri Shrine and she is shocked on arrival to discover that her new sohei is Katsuo – a boy who was indirectly linked to the greatest tragedy of her life.

Although shaken by seeing Katsuo once again, Emi is determined to not let this affect her duty. However, things start to change as she discovers what it truly means to be the kamigakari and saves the life of Shiro – a kitsune – who should be her sworn enemy. Shiro now owes her a debt, and Emi needs to find a way to change her fate. However, is a single fox’s magic enough to stand up to the power of the gods?

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The Deathless Girls

The Deathless Girls was written by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and first published in 2019. It is a Gothic horror novel which tells the untold tale of the Brides of Dracula. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

Lillai and her twin sister, Kisaiya, have just turned seventeen and that means that it is time for their Divining Day – the moment when they will find out what the fates have in store for them. Lil is certain that her beautiful and outgoing sister will be an ursar – a bear dancer – yet she is less certain what place she will be given within their Traveller community. However, the future for Lil and Kizzy holds nothing but bloodshed and death. Before their palms can be read, their camp is ransacked and they are torn from everything that they once knew.

The girls’ destiny lies in the court of Boyar Valcar – a lord who is well known for his “love” of pretty young girls. They are put to work in Valcar’s kitchens but know that it can only be a matter of time before they are forced to serve him in other ways. While Kizzy endangers herself by constantly battling their captors, Lil would rather accept their fate to avoid further to pain. For Lil, the one ray of light comes in the form of Mira – another kitchen girl whom Lil is inexplicably drawn to.

However, as Lil adjusts to life as a slave, she starts to learn disquieting things about her captors. Valcar and the other Boyars answer to a mysterious prince known as the Dragon – a man made legend due to his brutality. In order to keep their master’s favour, each Boyar must present the Dragon with a regular sacrifice. As beautiful Kizzy starts to be noticed more and more, Lil realises that there is a good chance that she could be next…

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Zeroes

Zeroes was written by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti and first published in 2015. It is a science fiction story follows a group of teenagers who all possess supernatural abilities, thought don’t have much of a grasp on how to use them. The novel forms the first part of a trilogy and is followed by Swarm (2016) and Nexus (2017).

Ethan Cooper – otherwise known as Scam – has a voice inside him that has the ability to give him whatever he wants. Unfortunately, the voice is not one to consider the long-term consequences of its actions. When Ethan wants a lift home, the voice is more than happy to assist him. However, this soon results in the theft of a drug dealer’s money and his inadvertent involvement in a bank heist that goes horribly wrong.

When he is taken into police custody, Ethan quickly learns that the whole series of events has been caught on film. Now, the police want to an explanation as to how he came to know personal details of a bank robber and not even the voice can get him out of this one. Luckily for Ethan, there are others who can. He once belonged to a group of “Zeroes” – teenagers with powers. Trouble is, he burned his bridges with them a year previously when he allowed the voice to reveal their darkest secrets.

Fortunately, Nate Saldana – or Bellwether – has been looking for a reason to get his team back together. Utilising their skills, the teens manage to rescue Ethan but find themselves in more trouble than they could ever have imagined. It’s not just drug dealers and gangsters that are now out to get Scam. He is also being hunted by the daughter of one of the bank robbers – a girl who has a powerful gift of her own…

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The Secret Commonwealth

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

His Dark Materials:  Northern Lights | The Subtle Knife | The Amber Spyglass | Short Stories

The Book of Dust:  La Belle Sauvage

The Secret Commonwealth was written by Phillip Pullman and first published in 2019. The novel is the second part of The Book of Dust series, set 20 years after the events of La Belle Sauvage and seven years after The Amber Spyglass. The novel tells the continuing story of Lyra Silvertongue – heroine of the critically acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy – and so I would strongly advise that you read all four of the previous novels to have any idea of what is going on.

Lyra Silvertongue is now twenty years old and has a problem. She no longer likes her dæmon. Ever since Lyra began reading the work of two philosophers who deny the existence of dæmons, she and Pantalaimon have been arguing more and more. Lyra feels that Pan is too critical of things that he does not understand, while Pan feels that Lyra has lost the creativity that he admired in her as a child. The rift between them has led to Pan spending more time wandering alone at night. This is how he comes to witness a murder.

Pan is shocked to see two men savagely ambush another, but is drawn into a larger mystery as he and Lyra uncover the missing man’s belongings. The botanical samples and notes that he carried seem innocent enough at first, but as Lyra reads the man’s journal she uncovers an incredible story about a rose with mystical properties and the Blue Hotel – a place were only dæmons can go. When her room is overturned by others who are desperate to find this research, she learns that she has an unexpected friend in her former tutor, Malcolm Polstead – a man who she is connected to in ways she could never have imagined.

When a particularly vicious argument causes Pan to run away, Lyra is convinced that he must have gone in search of the Blue Hotel. Desperate to find him, she sets out on an epic journey across Europe and beyond. However, danger follows in her footsteps. People are naturally fearful of those who do not have dæmons, and villains from Lyra’s past are desperate to get hold of her in order to have their revenge…

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The Bone Houses

The Bone Houses was written by Emily Lloyd-Jones and was first published in 2019. It is a fantasy story with horror elements, focusing on two teenagers who team up in order to stop an undead army. The novel stands alone, so you don’t need to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it. It’s also currently only available to buy as an eBook in the UK, though the hardback is due to be released at the end of the month.

Ryn has struggled to keep her family together following her mother’s death and father’s disappearance. There is not a lot of work for a gravedigger in a village where the dead do not tend to stay buried. The forests beyond the village of Colbren are the domain of the Bone Houses – corpses that have been doomed to wander as the result of a faerie curse. Although the Bone Houses can be very dangerous, they have always been held back by the iron fence that surrounds Colbren. Unfortunately, this does not last.

Ellis has arrived in Colbren for a different reason. The young mapmaker has grown up in the lap of luxury, but has never known his true parents. Using his skills, money and influence, he has made the long journey in the hope of discovering his roots. However, when his arrival coincides with a particularly brutal attack, he finds himself teaming up with Ryn to find a way to stop the Bone Houses.

Their journey takes them deep into the forest and the mountains beyond, tracing the Bone Houses back to their birth place on lands once occupied by a ruthless fae king. Along the way, they also learn more about themselves and discover that their destinies are entwined with the restless dead in ways that they could never have imagined…

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The Darkest Minds

The Darkest Minds was written by Alexandra Bracken and first published in 2012. The novel follows the story of a group of teenagers with strange powers, who are forced to flee across America in search of a safe haven. The book forms the first part of The Darkest Minds series and is followed by Never Fade (2013), In the Afterlight (2014) and The Darkest Legacy (2018).

When Ruby was ten, a mysterious disease swept across America. Parents were forced to watch helplessly as a majority of their children died of Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. However, the fate of the survivors was far worse. The children were left with terrible powers, ranging from hyper intelligence to pyrokinesis. Terrified by the implications of this, the government quickly set up rehabilitation camps, spinning them as places where the children could be cured. The truth was that they were little more than prisons.

Ruby has lived in Thurmond since she was ten years old and hides a terrible secret. On the day that she was sorted, she saw into the doctor’s mind and realised the danger of seeming two powerful. Using her powers, she made him believe that she was just a Green – someone who possessed a photographic memory. She is now forced to be super careful to ensure that no one realises that she is actually an Orange – someone with the power to change memories and control minds.

Yet all of that is about to change. When Ruby’s secret is revealed, she is forced to accept the help of a mysterious doctor in order to escape the camp. Yet, once outside, she soon learns that her rescuer’s motives may not be that altruistic. As she runs away, she soon finds herself in the company of a small group of teenagers who are in search of the “Slip Kid” – someone with the power to protect them. Yet could this all be too good to be true and, in this dangerous world, is there anywhere that is truly safe?

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Soul of the Sword

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Shadow of the Fox. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Soul of the Sword was written by Julie Kagawa and first published in 2019. It is the second part of the Shadow of the Fox Trilogy, continuing Yumeko’s quest to deliver a fragment of the legendary Dragon scroll to the Steel Feather Temple. As the novel carries on directly where Shadow of the Fox (2018) left off, you really do need to read the novels in sequence to fully appreciate them.

Although Yumeko and her allies managed to defeat Lady Satomi’s forces, their victory came at a terrible cost. Hakaimono has escaped imprisonment from within Kamigoroshi and has completely taken over Tatsumi. The former demonslayer is now a prisoner in his own body, forced to watch as the monster exacts its bloody revenge on the Kage clan.

Although she is desperate to save Tatsumi, Yumeko does not know where to begin. Hakaimono is too powerful to be expelled by an exorcism and would surely rip apart anyone who tried. Yet a mysterious silver fox appears to her in a dream with a solution. If she can master the dark art of kitsune-tsuki – fox possession – she will be able to drive out Hakaimono from within.

Yet saving Tatsumi is not her biggest priority. Yumeko’s piece of the Dragon scroll still must be delivered to the Steel Feather Temple for safe keeping. The trouble is, no one knows precisely where the temple is hidden. Will Yumeko and her friends be able to uncover its location, or will Genno’s army of yōkai, witches and oni find them first…

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Sorcery of Thorns

Sorcery of Thorns was written by Margaret Rogerson and first published in 2019. It is a fantasy novel which focuses on a wrongfully accused apprentice who teams up with her sworn enemy in order to investigate a murder. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

Elizabeth Scrivener has always known what she wants from life. Raised within one of the Great Libraries of Austemere, she has been apprenticed directly to the Director to learn how to be a Warden. It is the role of these skilled warriors to protect the public from Grimoires – dangerous magical tomes which have been confiscated from Sorcerers. Only Wardens are powerful enough to prevent Grimoires from transforming into Maleficts – monsters intent on taking human life.

However, Elizabeth soon learns that her future is not assured. When the Director is killed after a Malefict is let loose in the library, Elizabeth finds herself under suspicion of murder. As the crime involved a Grimoire, she is banished from the library and escorted to the capital in the company of Nathaniel Thorn – a young sorcerer – and his mysterious butler, Silas. For Elizabeth, there can be no worse fate. Every librarian knows that sorcerers are monsters. In fact, Elizabeth suspects that Nathaniel may have had a hand in the Director’s death.

As Elizabeth sees the larger world, she starts to realise how sheltered her upbringing was. While the sorcerers are dangerous, the populous at large see them in a very different light. Still, it’s not long before Elizabeth begins to uncover evidence of a deadly plot that threatens every library. Yet who will possibly believe her accusations when it is just the word of a young woman against the most powerful man in all of Austermere…

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The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken Legs was written by Sophie Anderson and first published in 2018. It is a fantasy story aimed at middle grade readers, focusing on a young girl who longs to escape her restrictive destiny. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Although people believe the Yaga to be witches, it is just because they do not understand the important role that they serve. Baba Yaga, like all of her kind, travels the world in her magical house. Her job is to guard the gateway to the afterlife and help all lost souls to find their way to the other side. It is an important role, however it is one that Marinka has come to loathe.

Marinka is Baba Yaga’s granddaughter and so has spent her entire life in the house, learning the ways of the Yaga in preparation for the day that her grandmother must make her journey through the gate. But this is not the life that Marinka wants. The house is always moving on and her grandmother does not allow her to make friends, as their art must remain secret from the living. The fact that she can’t even leave the house unaccompanied makes her even more claustrophobic.

This is why Marinka chooses to rebel and finally make a friend. She cannot possibly know what terrible consequences this will bring on the house. When Baba Yaga disappears and Marinka finds herself alone, she realises that she must do everything that she can to bring her grandmother home. Yet she can’t possibly succeed without the house’s help, and the house seems oddly unwilling to assist her…

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