Darker by Four

HarperTeen. Apr. 2024. 400p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063283848.
Gr 8 Up–The Fourth King of Hell went missing on the Reaper Nikai’s watch, Rui’s mother was killed by a hybrid creature the Revenant-fighting Exorcists claim doesn’t exist, and Yiran, lacking the spiritual energy to carry on the Song family legacy in the Exorcist Guild, is a disappointment about to be sent to boarding school. One thrilling battle sequence and an accidental transfer of spiritual energy later, the three find themselves united in a quiet quest to discover the Fourth King’s whereabouts in the mortal realm assisted by Zizi, Rui’s off-the-grid mage friend. Although the starting points of the main characters seem wildly disparate, the core of the mystery is intricately layered and comes together neatly with a satisfying snap of revealed conspiracy. The mortal world and the underworld are complex settings but the lore unfurls naturally throughout the story, couched in hilarious character interactions. Banter aside, each character—including Zizi, who is not a point-of-view character—has a depth of characterization that will compel readers who crave character-driven stories even as the adventurous plot appeals to those who desire action. The cast of characters is largely coded as East Asian and there is significant queer representation.
VERDICT A book that deserves both its own anime adaptation and a spot on the shelves of any library with fantasy-loving teens.

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