In this middle-grade fantasy sequel, Bialys’ (The Chronicles of the Virago: The Novus, 2018) heroic teens continue protecting twin infants who are destined to usher in a golden age.
Thirteen-year-old Makenna Gold is the Virago, “tasked by the forces of good” to protect her twin 14-month-old siblings, Emilyne and Noah. She’s aided by an enchanted lowrider skateboard called “the Redeemer” and three fairy mentors: Marigold Frith and Bree and Dee Delphine. One night, in the Pasadena, California, home that she shares with her parents and siblings, Makenna receives a visit from the Grim Reaper. He warns her, “You are dangerously close to being one of my clients.” The next day, she learns that her school has won the Roosevelt Meir Award, which allows the school administration to send her; her best friend, Stephen Levine; and their classmates Heather Stern, Elise Green, and Sam Taylor on a three-week educational trip to China. Parents will chaperone them, and the London-based Natasi Foundation will pay all expenses. However, it turns out that this foundation is run by the foul Sir Malvado Seaton, who will do anything to kidnap the twins. Numerous “Efflusyum decoys” throughout the world prevent Seaton from tracking Makenna and the twins’ exact location, so he plans to lure them to a place where his operative, the sinister and effective Mr. Xshun, can dispatch the Virago. Also gunning for her is Ms. Creante, a disguised Alghanii demon who’s already failed to defeat Makenna once. Thankfully, help awaits the teen at Nanjing University in the form of Tai-Pan, an Air Elemental who will train her to use the Redeemer in more advanced ways.
For this series’ second installment, Bialys deploys more bombastic wit and skillful plot twists. He provides heaping portions of weirdness—such as a talking worm named “Fluffy”—while also guiding characters through incredible transformations. Tai-Pan, a sly transplant from classic literature, is a pleasant surprise, and Mr. Xshun harbors a centuries-old secret that enables a gripping action sequence. Young genius Sam is a fun font of knowledge; for instance, he lets the other kids know that the name “Natasi” is “I Satan” backward. Stephen pitches in with his powers of clairvoyance, but the best help that Makenna receives is Tai-Pan’s advice to never “take a life in anger.” Bialys trusts his young audience to handle some graphic moments, including Ms. Creante’s demonic transformation with “her skin falling away like paper, blood seeping in pools onto the dirty pavement.” There are some religious themes; for example, “blood metal,” derived from the nails used to crucify Jesus Christ, is employed to create an “anti-weapon” to counter the Redeemer. Heather, though frequently off-page, is a memorable character when she does appear; at one point, for instance, she’s determined to go on a shopping spree, “crisis or not.” Bialys’ joy in bringing this world to life is clear and remains his greatest strength. The epic closing events lead organically to a planned third volume.
A fantasy adventure that builds thrillingly on its predecessor.