A routine morning ride on a school bus plunges fifteen children into a mysterious world in this sparkling debut fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers.
On a seemingly normal day, an old school bus known as the “yellow beast” passes through a blue light in the road and is transported to an empty field in a strange land. When the bus gets stuck in mud and cellphones don’t work, the driver, Ben, heads off to look for help.
Adjusting to their curious environment, the children begin to experience strange powers: Gabrielle can fly on her skateboard, Annie can freeze time, Emma can warp light, and Ted can make music by waving his hands around.
When Ben fails to return, the kids begin to explore the land, taking trails that appear and disappear, and encountering strange creatures, such as playful clouds, thundering fireballs, talking fish, and bouncing bears. But soon terrifying winged beasts begin hunting them, and the children must flee for their lives.
They become separated, some finding a land of colorful warrior fairies, while others meet an old hermit who has his own strange power. The children learn their powers are called “gifts”, but with each gift comes a weakness. And, the winged beasts have been sent by an evil ruler, Sidtarr, who seeks to capture the children and use their gifts for himself.
Some of the children head south to the kingdom of a renowned silver cat who may protect them, while others head north toward Sidtar’s realm. Along the way, the kids face inner conflicts from the weaknesses that accompany their gifts and personal hardships they have endured. They find help in unexpected places and undergo trials and dangers as they journey through this mysterious land.
Kingdom of the Silver Cat is a story of friendship, adversity, self-discovery and trust in a magical world. It is the first book in the Sapphire Fruit Chronicles series.
Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character, allowing Carroll to take a deep dive into their perspectives and backstories. Sisters Gabrielle and Celia moved to their small upstate New York town from Honduras; Corey is so smart that everyone calls him CPU; Ted dreams of being a musician but fails at every instrument he tries to play; Bobby was struck by lightning, leaving him with a limp and slurred speech, and his classmates lovingly protect him. These stories intertwine and complement one another. Though the focus-switching may confuse some readers, investing in the characters is worth the trouble.
Amid many wonders, Carroll doesn’t shy away from heavy themes: Josh’s mother died when he was little and Annie’s parents are divorcing. Moreover, the children must survive in a world that contains feuding tribes and intense environmental dangers. Huang’s charcoal chapter-head drawings are capable but don’t do justice to the colorful setting and story. The rich worldbuilding, broad scope, and abrupt ending invite future books in which the protagonists’ powers and adventures will hopefully be further explored. Imaginative, intense, and heartwarming, this mythic portal fantasy is a strong first step on the way to a saga.
Takeaway: Young readers will swoon over the interesting characters, colorful details, and new takes on old tropes in this riveting middle grade portal fantasy.
Great for fans of Louis Sachar’s Wayside School series, Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A-
"A whirlwind adventure . . . filled with action, mythical and magical creatures alike, and a much needed new narrative of young people discovering themselves and their relationships with each other and the world around them". (10/10)
"If Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia had a love child, Kingdom of the Silver Cat would be it!" (5 stars)
"An original, fantastical middle grade adventure that's woven with lessons about friendship and fear." (4 stars)
"A clever and engaging fantasy with a lively cast of characters and an imaginatively-drawn world, KINGDOM OF THE SILVER CAT will likely appeal to tween readers searching for a little magic in their lives." (4.5 stars)
"A clever and engaging fantasy with a lively cast of characters and an imaginatively-drawn world, KINGDOM OF THE SILVER CAT will likely appeal to tween readers searching for a little magic in their lives."
"Creative, authentic, and unique, but also supported by strong life lessons and powerful messaging for impressionable minds."
IndieReader included Kingdom of the Silver Cat among its "Best Reviewed Books of the Month" for February 2020 and gave it 4.5 stars out of 5.
KINGDOM OF THE SILVER CAT was selected by the Indie Editors of Kirkus Reviews to be featured in their April 1 Issue. The review will appear as one of 35 in the Indie section of the magazine which is sent out to over 5,000 industry professionals (librarians, publishers, agents, etc.)