Amari and the Night Brothers by BB Alston has to be the top children’s book release for 2021. Readers will recognise a whole ton of fantasy traditions as they race through the pages – from Harry Potter right through to Men in Black – yet Amari also has a strong voice of her own. The story feels utterly familiar and fresh at the same time – a cosy magical blanket for the cold January frosts which will transport you to unseen worlds and secret societies.
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Amari Peters knows three things.
Her big brother Quinton has gone missing.
No one will talk about it.
His mysterious job holds the secret …
So when Amari gets an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain this is her chance to find Quinton. But first she has to get her head around the new world of the Bureau, where mermaids, aliens and magicians are real, and her roommate is a weredragon.
Amari must compete against kids who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives, and when each trainee is awarded a special supernatural talent, Amari is given an illegal talent – one that the Bureau views as dangerous.
With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is the enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton…
All good stories start with a mystery and in this case, Amari’s task is to find her missing brother, Quinton. I absolutely loved the beginning of the tale which involves a strange briefcase and a series of cryptic notes. We immediately see that Amari deserves a break more than anyone. Although she’s won a scholarship to a prestigious school, she has to deal with being bullied for being black and living in a low-income housing project. Her mum works all hours to support the family and to top it off, her talented and much-loved brother has disappeared without a trace. Unlike some characters in kids’ books, Amari’s emotional responses to her situation seem totally real. She feels frustrated, ashamed and crushed by the system, but this serves to make her doubly quick-witted and determined.
BB Alston sets up her character so well that when potential salvation arrives in the first few pages, you do a little cheer knowing that Amari doesn’t have to only rely on the biased known world for true recognition of her intellect and hard work.
The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs
Anyone who’s seen Men in Black will spot the broad similarities straightaway, but BB Alston manages to take the concept and inject new originality into it. I don’t want to give too much away but expect sentient objects, unusual creatures and waking visions. There’s also a nice bit of legend to pad out the back story of the Night Brothers, renegade magicians who use their power to corrupt and dominate. I enjoyed finding out more about the structure of the organisation with its many layers, characters and aims. At the heart of this, lies the enigmatic VanQuish, a partnership involving Amari’s brother Quinton, and the role of this shadowy duo takes the stakes to another level.
Circle of Friends
As with all good middle-grade novels, friendship is a core feature of Amari and the Night Brothers. Amari starts out alone and by the end, she has a great group of allies and supporters. Elsie was one of the stand-out characters for me. Inventive and loyal, her misfit status as a dormant weredragon makes her empathic and welcoming. As in other well-known fantasy books, the outsiders band together to pool their skills and defend their values. I also liked Jayden, a kid from Amari’s estate who’s being sucked into crime to survive. He plays a small part in the story, but his inclusion draws you back to reality. Even though Amari may have been given the key to another life, she doesn’t forget those who have been left behind.
Amari and the Night Brothers is a feisty middle-grade novel with one of the smartest protagonists I’ve come across for a while. Seasoned readers may find that some of the plotlines are a little familiar but the characterisation and details add a fresh spin. Younger readers will be whisked away by the imagination and excitement in the story, and I can’t wait for my 8-year-old to dive into this one. Amari is a great role model – kind, tenacious, clever. A fast-paced, magical series for a new generation.
Many thanks to The Write Reads and Egmont Publishing for sending this copy in exchange for an honest review.
- Publisher: Egmont UK Ltd
- Publication Date: 21 January 2021
- ISBN: 9781405298179
- Format: Hardback
- Number of pages: 384
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