Tuesday, May 04, 2021

The Last Shadow Warrior and Thrive

Subity, Sam. The Last Shadow Warrior
May 4th 2021 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby Beckett has been training her whole life. She knows that her mom who passed away four years ago was a warrior who battled Grendels, but she's still surprised when her home in Charlotte, NC is attacked. She and her father, an English teacher, take off hastily and escape to Minnesota, where she will be attending the Vale school, and her father will be teaching there, thanks to the Grey Council. Things don't go smoothly, however; on their way in, there is another attack, and her father ends up in a coma in the hospital. Abby is encouraged to start school anyway, and meets Jacob Grimsby and Gwinn, who are friendly, and Chase Lodbrok, who is a jerk. The headmaster tells Abby that Grendels are extinct, and there's no reason to have the Aesir warriors like her mother anymore, but her aunt, who is one of the last Aesirs, is missing and Abby is worried. When the doctors determine that her father was badly scratched by  multiple sleepthorns, and will die if an antidote is not found, Abby and her new friends start an investigation. This takes them under the school, which is a portal to Asgaard, and Abby's training to fight Grendels comes in very handy (as do Gwinn's Valkyrie qualities) as the trio faces all manner of evil Norse characters. Will they be able to find the cure in time to save Abby's father?
Strengths: Grab Napoli's beautifully illustrated Treasury of Norse Mythology and hold onto your Svadilfari!  Abby is a fearless fighter who misses her mother but is intent on preserving her legacy and saving her father. While she's worried about the rise of the Grendel and the fact that her father is in a coma, she's also excited to finally get to use her training and be introduced to the world of which her mother was such an important part. It's good to see that she has good friends and fighting allies in Grimsby and Gwinn, and their exploits are filled with lots of action, as well as a few great middle grade gross moments! There were plenty of fun moments, too, like a book crucial to the mystery being reserved for Abby before she was even a student at Vale, and a bingo game with a dark Valykrie. The ending leaves this open for a possible sequel, but would also stand alone well. 
Weaknesses: This gave me a few "Wait. What?" moments that younger readers might not have. Abby is wearing her mother's flannel shirts, but her cottage was consumed by an inferno? She and her father flee the Grendel but pack boxes? Grimsby doesn't know that the Gwinn is a Valkyrie? I find that I have to pay really close attention to fantasy or I can't remember enough to write a review, so perhaps that worked against me in this instance. 
What I really think: This is a fine addition to other action adventure fantasies based on Norse mythology, like Harris's Runemarks, Jennewin and Thomas' Runewarriors, Armstrong's Blackwell Pages series, Riordan's Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgaard,   O'Hearn's Valkyrie series, Holub and Williams' Thunder Girls, or Richards's Secrets of Valhalla.

Oppel, Kevin. Thrive (The Overthrow #3)
May 4th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Netgalley

*Spoiler Alert: If you haven't read Bloom or Hatch, there will be some spoilers.*

Anaya, Petra, ,and Seth are deep into the invasion of the alien life forms that have created the hybrid children, sent plants and animals down to Earth, and are preparing to invade and take over the planet for themselves. The rebels, aliens who don't necessarily want to suck out all the humans' brains, are working with the children and their adult scientist mentors to formulate a plan to keep the invasion at bay. Anaya is telepathically communicating and working with a swimmer (who uses gender neutral pronouns), and Petra with a runner named Terra. Seth is distraught that Esta is being held with the other hybrids and might be charged with murder, in which he feels complicit. The ship that the alien rebels arrived on was badly damaged, so everyone is trying to find other downed ships that could be stripped for parts in order to make repairs. The best way to defeat the aliens seems to be to introduce a mutation into their bodies that turns the sounds they make against them, and combining this with a virus in rain to lower the aliens' immune system response will make it work faster. Things, of course, do not go smoothly. Seth runs into many problems when he is trying to save Esta, and the method of wiping out the flyers hits a lot of snags. The hybrid children also have to deal with the fact that their bodies have changed, and it's not easy living with a tail with a poisonous tip, feathered arms, or a body newly covered in fur. Will the hybrids, rebel aliens, and scientists be able to save the world from eminent takeover?
Strengths: For most of the book, I did NOT think it would be possible to save the world! We don't see a lot of the alien strategy in this book, but they had a solid start with sending the evil grass and ground worms to colonize the planet and sow destruction. The fact that the hybrids are teens saving the world, and they have the help of rebel aliens is a great device. There's plenty of action: flying, fighting, running, and generally surviving in a world gone mad. Having a three book set is perfect, the covers are fantastic, and the dystopian world and its inhabitants are beautifully developed. 
Weaknesses: It always seemed like such a long shot that Earth would prevail, so the ending felt a tiny bit deus ex machina. I wish that some of the environmental message in the final chapters had been seeded more throughout the books. 
What I really think: This might be one of my favorite new series. The books all came out in about a year (no small feat, I understand, but when a sequel comes out 12 years after the first book... the kids interested originally are all gone and the books are worn out!), is a genre that has a small but loyal following, and is structurally sound in plot, characters, and message. Feel like I need to buy two sets just in case, but probably won't.

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