Captured The Darkening

Gr 6—9—Willow has been listening to Nana's stories of a realm that involves magic, castles, and the crystal on her nightstand for as long as she can remember, but always thought they were just meant to entertain her. In Captured, when Nana dies, Willow sees the crystal glowing, grabs it, and wakes up in another world. In Mistolear, she's a princess. A spell has been cast over the citizens, forcing them to play in a human chess game. Willow's parents have been captured, and it's up to her to save them. The plot loses a little steam after the setup of the chess, and the too-large cast of characters falls flat. However, as a light, fun fantasy, it serves its purpose. Loose ends are tied up neatly even though this is the first of a planned trilogy. In The Darkening, Willow is helping to raise the evil fairy Nezeral, whom she magicked back to infancy in Captured. She's also dating her sworn knight, Brand, who is freaked out about the shorts and tank tops she chooses over princess dresses. Then the faerie queen Cyrraena requires her to play a new game, and when Brand rashly and secretly tags along, he breaks the rules and they end up in a creepy faerie prison/zoo. Faerie princesses Dacia and Theon anger their father by helping his human pets, and the four are sent into the Goblin's Gauntlet, facing all kinds of frightening magical creatures. While the game itself is engaging, many readers may lose interest before they get there. The mix of medieval and modern references is awkward and ineffective, and Willow is too whiny to elicit much sympathy when her romance with Brand goes south. In a crowded field of faerie stories, this one doesn't distinguish itself.—Mandy Lawrence, Fowler Middle School, Frisco, TX

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