It is my turn on the blog tour for this truly wondrous middle grade fantasy novel, and I am so excited to be sharing my review. Having finished it during the week, I can completely understand why so many other bloggers have adored this one – it is a book we completely need in our lives!
Thank you very much as always to Dave @ The Write Reads for organising the tour, to B.B. Alston and the publisher for providing me with a shiny free advance copy, and to Noly for designing yet another fabulous banner.
Published: 19th January 2021
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Trigger warnings: Micro-aggressions
Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?
Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things.
Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives. If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.
With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.
This is a thoroughly delightful and enthralling story that is filled with an endless amount of fascinating ideas and concepts. Taking place within an extraordinary world and featuring an amazing protagonist, there is so much to love as it leads the reader on a magical journey which relays uplifting messages while also providing no shortage of humour and wit.
There is so much to pack into this book, from all the ins and outs of the supernatural world to the enduring mystery of what happened to Quinton and his partner Maria, and it moves along at a searing pace. That helped to guarantee there was never a dull moment throughout, and I loved the feeling of genuine warmth and escapism that radiated from almost every page.
The biggest highlight of the story is Amari herself. It is told entirely in the first person from her perspective, and she is absolutely fantastic. There are times where she is forced to stand up for herself or make tough decisions, but her heart is forever in the right place. She is so selfless, never losing sight of having to find her missing brother despite being thrust into an amazing new world and given unrivalled magical abilities, and this care for others extends far and wide.
Amari lives in a deprived neighbourhood and is often singled out for being the only black girl in an affluent school. She is treated similarly once she arrives at the Bureau and discovers she is a magician, with others distancing themselves from her and regarding her with suspicion for possessing an apparently illegal power. This is a recurring theme in the book and for a middle grade, it was handled exceptionally well. Even better, Amari’s answer was to keep going and eventually show everyone how special a person she is.
This combination made Amari such an easy character to root for, and the way her point of view is written was spot on. Her reaction to receiving Quinton’s unexpected gift and experiencing all the weird and wonderful things in the Bureau was very believable, and I enjoyed discovering them through her eyes. What made it all the more satisfying was how she was rewarded for her kindness and moral fibre during the tryouts, which sends a positive message to younger readers.
Of the other characters, my favourite was Amari’s best friend Elsie, who was understanding, smart, and just as likeable. Dylan was definitely the most complex, and there were many times where it felt like he was hiding another side to his personality. I could not stand Lara or her father, who were both highly condescending and prejudiced, while Moreau made for an intriguing villain.
The plot was all-action, and alongside following Amari’s progress in the junior agent tryouts, I was never allowed to lose sight of the mystery and where it might lead. There were occasional hints towards the bigger picture, but the author does an excellent job of keeping things under wraps and as such the twist near the end has the desired effect. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that certain types of magic should not be taken at face value.
The amount of imagination that went into developing the Bureau is nothing short of staggering. For a fantasy setting it simply has it all and I was enchanted by each new element that was introduced, such as the talking lifts that had unique personalities, the social media platforms, the items available from the magician’s gift shop, the individual quirks of each of its departments. The list goes on!
If there is one area where this book does not quite excel, that would be the fact it could have been more strongly developed in places. The writing is lovely and I did not necessarily mind the rapid pace there was to proceedings, but I would have liked some parts of the story to have been allowed to breathe a little more, rather than passing by in a bit of a blur.
The ending was very fitting in the way it summed up the themes of the book so perfectly, as well as Amari. Although we barely see Quinton, it was very nice to see how he always had total faith in her, and Amari does the same for her friend Jayden. That illustrates the strength of her character growth and despite everything that she has seen and the dark magic she has encountered, she never lets them change who she is.
Overall, this was fun and exhilarating ride that brought several smiles to my face. It has all that a fantasy for a younger audience could possibly ask for, and any film adaptation would make for an enticing prospect. There many have been a few minor issues on the technical side, but the story, the setting, the themes, and most certainly the main character could hardly have been better.
B.B. Alston has been writing since he was in middle school, telling horror stories that featured his classmates. After entering a creative writing contest, he began work on Amari And The Night Brothers, which is his debut novel. He lives in South Carolina.
So much to enjoy, so much for readers of any age to immerse themselves in. This was a lovely book.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
*I was given a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Remember to check out all the other reviews in this huge blog tour!
Happy reading 🙂