Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Marrone, Martinez, Rutkoski

The Multiplying Menace
by Amanda Marrone
Recommended Ages: 12+

Ever since a freak birthday party incident involving a cake-flinging chimp, Maggie Malloy has tried to avoid saying the words "I wish." Who knows what would happen if people found out about her magic wishing powers? But then a wish slips out on the last day of fifth grade, and what with a class bully's hair turning into a swarm of cockroaches, Maggie gets expelled from school. Now, to enable her entomologist parents to visit the bugs of the Amazon, she has to move in with her Gram in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and try to get into an exclusive school for gifted children. Do they have classes for kids with her kind of gift? Maggie doesn't think so.

Nevertheless, Maggie wishes her way through the entrance exam and starts to play fast and loose with the rules of magic—not that anyone has bothered to explain them to her—in order to get by in the fast-paced environment of Black Rock School. She also discovers that her Grandpa was a partner in a magic repair shop which is still run by the other partner, a nice old fellow named Mr. McGuire. He recognizes her power and begins to teach her the ropes, including the funny and sometimes scary things you can do with glittering powders, mirrors, cauldrons, and wands. But learning magic, even as an after-school activity, is no cakewalk when Maggie has to balance the concerns of a genius best friend, a disapproving grandmother, a sarcastic rabbit, and the annoying "popular girl" in her class who somehow seems immune to mind-altering magic.

Meanwhile, a dark wizard has been hexing people, causing other magicians to disappear, and setting dangerous traps for Maggie and her friend Raphael. With everyone she has come to care about in grave danger, she must race to solve the mysteries swirling around a stage magician called Milo the Magnificent. Lions, snakes, swarms of wasps, magically multiplying bunnies, a black cat turned yellow, and the chilling danger of being trapped "through the looking-glass" are only some of the risks Maggie must run in her maiden adventure as a sixth-grade sorceress.

This book, not to be confused with the "Multiplying Menace/Math Adventure" picture books by Pam Calvert, is the first in a series titled "Magic Repair Shop." So far two more books have been added to this series: The Shape Shifter's Curse and The Master of Mirrors. Marrone's adult fiction includes, at this writing, four supernatural romance novels: Uninvited, Revealers, Devoured, and Slayed.

by A. Lee Martinez
Recommended Ages: 16+

This novel shares its one-word title with an award-winning teen novel by Walter Dean Myers, to say nothing of novels by Jonathan Kellerman, Frank Peretti, and Christopher Pike; plus various works of non-fiction and the Oscar-winning 2003 film starring Charlize Theron. Dallas-based author Martinez overcomes this handicap with the strikingly original move of making Monster the name of its main character (full name: Monster Dionysus): a freelance animal-rescue officer whose specialty is "cryptobiologicals"—which is to say, monsters.

Monster is a pretty average dude, like many twenty-something single guys you know. He has a skin condition that causes him to be a different color every time he wakes up. These flesh tones range from ordinary shades of red, blue, and green to more sophisticated hues such as goldenrod and scarlet; but with each color comes a different superhuman power, such as indestructibility, teleportation, the ability to fly or to glow blindingly bright for a few moments at a time. His sidekick Chester is a paper gnome, which is like a miniature origami man who can transform into a bird, an octopus, or (most conveniently) a square of paper that can fit into a shirt pocket. His girlfriend Liz is a demon from hell—a succubus, specifically—which means a more than satisfying sex life and a lot of help paying the rent; but it also means an eternity of freakish torment as soon as she catches him thinking about another woman. Just your average working stiff.

Monster doesn't make a lot of money capturing magical creatures, and it isn't just because he's a bit of a slacker whose memory for spells is so spotty that he has to look everything up in a rune dictionary before he can do it. But that's all right. At least he isn't like most people, "incognizants" who can't perceive magic at all because their minds automatically filter it out—or like Judy, a "light incog" who can see creatures like yetis and trolls when they're right in front of her, but who forgets them soon afterward.

Oh yes, Judy. I almost forgot to tell you about Judy. It all turns out to revolve around her. Things start to get out of control when Judy spots a yeti in the ice cream freezer at the supermarket where she works nights. She calls the city's animal control hotline, and they send over a very blue Monster to handle it, and so their rocky relationship starts. They never really hit it off, but after facing a giant many-legged Japanese beastie, a herd of goat people, a hydra, a dragon, and the crazy cat lady who rules the universe, they come to respect each other. More or less. But mankind is about to face an apocalypse and Judy is right in the center of it. Monster is a character and no mistake. But does have the character to help her save the world?

This is a quirky, comical, very adult fantasy adventure set in a present-day city near you. Readers who have outgrown Harry Potter will be drawn in by the magical scenario in which Judy snaps, "You're calling me a muggle, aren't you?... I'm not a dumbass muggle." And even though she kind of is, she is the key to resolving a cosmic conflict that has raged for eons—part of a concept of the universe that will make Douglas Adams fans wriggle with pleasure. Both "adult" and "occult content" advisories are in order, however, as concerned Christian parents will note if they preview this book for their kids. It contains some R-rated imagery as well as the type of magic that can, for example, result in a mortal and a demon shacking up together. Also, though angels and demons are in it, it takes place in an atheistic cosmos that has evolved and disintegrated countless times. And angels, though tough on evil, are easy. If you know what I mean...

Too Many Curses
by A. Lee Martinez
Recommended Ages: 13+

Nessy is the kobold in charge of the castle of Margle the Horrendous, the latest in a series of wizards she has served. This means that she spends a lot of time dusting gargoyles (some of whom have heroes magically trapped in them), mopping the floor beneath Walter the Wall (who talks in letters made of blood), and feeding Margle's menagerie of monsters such as the Thing that Devours and the Beast that Should Not Be (mostly the results of the wizard's ghastly experiments). It's a lot of work for a tiny, doglike person, but Nessy does it cheerfully and she does it well. At times Margle actually seems almost grateful. Nevertheless, when Margle brings home the seed of a nurgax—a one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple creature that devours the first person it sees after hatching, then imprints on the second—it is Nessy whom the wizard decides to sacrifice. But even great wizards slip up, and when Margle does he becomes the nurgax's first meal and Nessy becomes its mummy.

This book is mainly about what happens after the wizard's demise. Nessy finds herself the mistress of a castle full of the wizard's former enemies, who remain transformed by an imaginative variety of curses. Some have been changed into animals, such as Sir Thedeus the fruit-bat, and one loving couple who exist in the form of an owl and a mouse. Others have been banished to less substantial forms, such as Echo (a disembodied voice), Yazpib (a wizard whose brain, eyes, teeth, and tongue are preserved in a jar of spirits), and Demented Dan (the skull of a psychopath, whose headless skeleton lives a completely separate life as the silent but friendly Mr. Bones). Plus the castle is loaded with non-human and non-living residents, such as the Hanged Man, the Drowned Girl, the Vampire King, the monster under the bed, and a wailing banshee who can only appear to warn of imminent castrophe (such as "saaaaltyyyy soouuuup!").

While many of these folks hope to be released from their curses somehow—if only Nessy can learn enough magic to manage it before another wizard comes to loot Margle's treasures—at the same time they form a quirky kind of family. So when a wizardess named Tiama shows up, demanding to see Margle, it becomes Nessy's mission to defend her family. There's only so much help they can give against a fiend who can kill with a touch of her finger, and who is hell-bent on opening the Door at the End of the Hall which Margle himself feared more than anything else. To save the castle and its colorful cast of curse victims, ghouls, fiends, and living armor, will require Nessy and her friends to confront the power of a demon, a hell-hound who hungers for the souls of the undead, and a power so chaotic that it could destroy the world. Heroism will be found in small packages. And besides dread, suspense, and contests of power between good and evil, their adventure will include a bit of romance and a lot of laughs.

This appears to be the most kid-friendly novel, to date, by an up-and-coming sci-fi/fantasy/horror writer whose other titles include Gil's All Fright Diner, In the Company of Ogres, A Nameless Witch, The Automatic Detective, Divine Misfortune, and Chasing the Moon.

The Cabinet of Wonders
by Marie Rutkoski
Recommended Ages: 12+

This book was partly inspired by a folk tale one of the author's Czech cousins told her, and it also incorporates a couple legends of the Roma—the people you may know as Gypsies—though one of them is more authentic than the other. It is based on a real period of history and includes characters based on such actual historical persons as Queen Elizabeth I of England, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, and famous alchemist John Dee. It takes place largely in the city of Prague, which is real enough that I have actually been there; and both the astronomical clock and the "cabinet of curiosities" featured in this book are based on things that positively existed. But, as the author's note emphasizes at the end of this book, the story in it is pure fiction. This fact is made even more clear by the added remarks from Astrophil, a talking tin spider who could exist only in an imagination as lively and rich as the one behind this book. It would be a treat for Astrophil, and all the magic of this story, to come and live in your imagination too.

Astrophil belongs to Petra Kronos, the tomboyish 12-year-old daughter of Mikal Kronos, who has a gift for metal working. And I don't just mean that he's good at it. He can move metal objects with his mind. He can create intricate devices that move, and think, and talk, and even grow by themselves. Obviously there's magic involved in this, but the alternate history in which the Kronos Chronicles take place is one in which magic plays a significant role in everyday life. Not everyone can do it, and not everyone is comfortable with it, but there's a school for magic in the capital city, and many artisans in the prosperous town of Okno use magic to improve their products. Petra's friend Tomik and his father both have a gift for working in glass, for example; the elder Tomas makes worry vials that people whisper their guilty secrets to before going to sleep, and Tomik makes miniature glass grenades that can unleash lightning, floods, and even swarms of wasps.

But it is Mikal's gift that draws the notice of the king, a handsome youth with a keen mind and an undeniable charm that never quite conceal his underlying cruelty. King Rodolfo hires Mikal to build a magnificent clock in the central square of Prague, one which is not only breathtakingly beautiful but also unimaginably powerful. Then Rodolfo steals Mikal's eyes—either to keep the old man from creating anything as wonderful again, or to use them to see things in a magical new way—and sends the clockmaker home.

Petra vows to steal her father's eyes back. After running away to Prague, she infiltrates the Salamander Castle in the guise of a servant. Her only friends in the castle are a crusty countess whose skin sometimes oozes highly corrosive acid when her emotions are upset, and a Roma pickpocket named Neel, whose family would string Petra up if they knew the kind of danger she was getting him into. With their help she must somehow get past the best security that 16th-century technology and an added layer of magic can provide and plunder the prince's most prized possessions. In doing this she risks much more than her own neck. But she has no choice, thanks in part to a bit of blackmail by an English ambassador (or spy) who is convinced that the clock made by Petra's father is really a weapon that could destroy the whole world. If the prince figures out how to work it before she can destroy the clock's innermost heart, no one will be safe from the power of a prince so mad for power that he had his own eyes gouged out in order to see the world through the eyes of Mikal Kronos....

Not to be confused with a similarly titled book by Renee Dodd, this book begins the Kronos Chronicles, a magical series that continues with The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash. For more information about this promising young author, visit her website.

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