Trilogy and Beyond

Provided by Penguin Random House: a red background with white type, "Read the Entire Series" then the four covers in the series featuring illustration of the main characters and fantastical creatures.

by Monae R.

Kelley Armstrong, a Canadian writer born in 2001, completed a wonderful children’s series in June 2022. Originally an author for teens and adults, her Royal Guide to Monster Slaying series, illustrated by Xavière Daumarie, comes as a nice refreshment for children. The first book, A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying (followed by sequels The Gryphon’s Lair and The Serpent’s Fury) was a Black Eyed Susan 2021-2022 nominee. Despite its enticing and interactive story, it did not win the award. The series follows the story of a princess and her journey to become the Royal Monster Slayer of her Kingdom.

Rowan, a 13-year-old girl, is adamant to fight alongside her aunt in the battle to understand and drive the monsters of the kingdom back to the mountains. Her journey towards this encompasses loss, friendship, family, and excitement beyond belief. Rowan’s bloodline, that of clan Dacre, gives her a gift many cannot fathom and allows her to find friends in unusual places.

Many see Rowan as a young, incapable princess. Over time, they see the error of their ways as she fights to increase her knowledge and strength. Her journey takes her out of the kingdom and past the mountains, where many have not traveled before, where she encounters rare and extinct monsters and develops relationships with bordering clans.

This series is full of unexpected twists and turns. The characters are silly and relatable and the monsters are fascinating and frightening. As someone who is deeply in love with fantasy stories, I could not put these books down. I placed a hold on the fourth book, The Final Trial, as soon as it was on order here at the library.

I highly recommend this inclusive fantasy quick read.

Monae is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS East Columbia Branch.

A Deadly Education

A black cover with gold text and a mysterious illustration of the phases of the moon, a mystical eyes, and spiral all centered above a book.

By Gabriela P.

Did you think your high school years were tough? Count yourself lucky that you could at least eat lunch without having monsters come at you. In Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education, Galadriel “El” Higgins goes to her classes, studies, and navigates her social sphere all while trying to stay alive. She attends the Scholomance, a school for magic, where there are no teachers, holidays, school events, or friendships. Attending students are suddenly thrown into this school located within a terrifying inter-dimensional void. With monsters, or “mals”, in every shadow and around every corner, the students have only one goal – to graduate, which means staying alive.

El is a junior at the Scholomance, and has a unique problem. While every other student has to figure out how to protect themselves from mals and students-gone-dark, she has to concentrate on not destroying everything she touches. A rather bothersome prophecy, something about her being the bringer of mass destruction, keeps her more preoccupied with making sure she doesn’t end up destroying the world than with making friends. Though in this school, friendships are usually strategic. When we are introduced to the snarky, anti-social El, she makes it clear that her only plan is to make it as close to graduation as she can without attracting unwanted attention to herself. Then, in her senior year, she plans to figure out how to impress students from well known magical enclaves to guarantee her and her mother’s safety during and after graduation. However, her not-so pleasant disposition means her chances are slim.

Orion Lake, a student from a major enclave with a major savior complex, is famous among the student body, mainly because he is pretty much responsible for the higher-than-normal survival rate of their junior class. When he saves El’s life once, then twice, the spotlight suddenly turns to her. Suddenly El has to figure out how to use the attention for her benefit, but ends up finding herself drawn into a much bigger problem. On top of all that, she finds herself stumbling upon the discovery that she might be…making friends.

A Deadly Education is a refreshing spin on well-known tropes; magic schools, I-hate-him-I-like-him, monsters with a taste for children – the usual. Naomi Novak skillfully builds a fantastical universe with dynamic characters that you can’t help but fall for. Darkly funny and terrifyingly captivating, this book is definitely one that you won’t put down until the end.

You can borrow A Deadly Education as a book, an eBook, and an eAudiobook.

A dark green cover with golden text and illustration of a keyhold with points and rays, and a dangling key.

The story continues (which you will want to do immediately) with The Last Graduate, and the third installment, The Golden Enclaves, is due this fall. The second book is also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook.

Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.

Explore the Ghoulish side of the Globe with the Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts!

The picture depicts a teal-colored fish-like monster with a yellow eye next to the book, which has a teal color and depicts a variety of monsters, including dragons, snakes, and Dracula.

By Claudia J.

Ok, I’ll admit it: I love Halloween but I’m not the biggest fan of scary things. You won’t catch me at a movie theater watching the latest film from the Halloween franchise or reading IT by Stephen King. I tend to focus on the lighter side of the season. Yet, when I was browsing through some of the oversized books that live upstairs at the Miller Branch, I stopped at a bright teal atlas filled to the brim with whimsical illustrations and trips around our world. However, instead of historic sites and tourist destinations, this atlas is filled with MONSTERS and GHOSTS!

Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts by Federica Magrin, with immensely detailed illustrations by Larua Brenlla, takes readers on a ghastly trip to hunt down the most fearsome creatures known to humanity. Each continent is covered throughout the pages, highlighting monsters and ghosts with cultural significance. I’m sure most of us already know of Bigfoot, King Kong, and the Boogeyman through classic stories and tales. But have you heard of the Smok Wawelski from Poland, a fearsome dragon from the cave at the foot of Wawel Hill? Or Krasue, the spirit from Thailand with the floating head who feeds on anything in her sights? These monsters and spirits are not only highlighted, but their stories are tied in with learning about each country’s tales and fables. One particular feature of the atlas that I enjoyed was that it gave special sections to the monsters and spirits of Greek Mythology and the ones from Japanese folktales, both of which have been spotlighted in various other stories, movies, and video games.

One fair warning for all my budding Monster Hunters: some of these stories, no matter your age, are not for the faint of heart despite its art style and its publisher, Lonely Planet Kids. Nevertheless, it was an interesting, spooktacular read, one that may send a chill up your spine, but which will definitely teach you something new along the way. What I learned is to not visit the places where these creatures have been spotted! I think I’ll opt for a warm beach instead.

You can borrow or request Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts at all HCLS locations for your horrific, spooky enjoyment.

Claudia J. is an Instructor and Research Specialist for Howard County Library System. She enjoys stories in all forms, from books to graphic novels, movies to video games: you name it!

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

A Navajo woman dressed in jeans, leather jacket, and tradition Navajo footwear and wrappings stands on the roof of an old red pickup truck, holding a shotgun and a long knife. Lightnight arcs across the image, with dust yellow storm clouds behind.

Review by Kristen B.

Meet Maggie Hoskie: monster hunter, Navajo (Diné) clan warrior, and first person narrator of Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut novel. In Trail of Lightning, the world as we know it has been mostly destroyed by earthquakes and subsequent floods. A strange thing happened during that time: Navajo history, gods, and legends came back to life and walls appeared around what was the reservation, protecting Dinétah from the worst of the predations happening in the outside world. It was something of a mixed blessing, for while traditional Diné clan life continued stronger than ever, it also brought back the scary parts of legend along with the good. As the book opens, Maggie doubts if she’s one of the good guys or just another one of the monsters she hunts. (Just to note: given the nature of the story, this book is chock-full of fairly graphic violence.)

This quick-paced, smart-mouthed action-adventure story takes place entirely within the Navajo world. The book opens with Maggie chasing a monster across the high desert hills, one who had kidnapped a young girl. We learn that Maggie’s clan powers include swiftness and battle rage, which serve her well in her vocation. In the aftermath, we meet her honorary grandfather Tah and Tah’s actual grandson Kai, who may or may not be a magician but is definitely something of a fashion plate. Tah practices the traditional scheme of grandparents everywhere by throwing his two favorite young folks together, in hopes of friendship and maybe even romance.

Maggie’s life is further complicated when her old friend Mai’i (Coyote) turns up at her trailer asking for a favor. Coyote plays his usual trickster part, but honestly, he’s only trying to make things better. The story becomes a race to find and eliminate a growing threat to Dinétah, which eventually involves a wide range of locals and legends. Maggie ends up having to deal directly with her one-time mentor and lover, Neizhgani, the (sort of) god of lightning. Maggie achieves some clarity and closure in the end, but it is a hard won truth that leaves everyone a little heartsore.

I had visited the Navajo reservation shortly before reading this book, and I could picture the locations clearly with the rock formations and scrubby landscape. Roanhorse is Black and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, and her husband and daughter are Navajo. She uses Diné terms for the clans and their powers, for the legends and gods, and it’s as strange in its own way as any other fantasy setting. This is the language of the WWII Code Talkers, which no one else in the world could decipher. It’s a powerful way to display Native American culture, asking the reader to figure out terminology from context without a glossary or other appendix. Roanhorse uses the place and language to good effect, creating a sense of other-ness that’s actually grounded in reality.

If you love this book as much as I do, I also recommend the sequel, Storm of Locusts. Maggie ventures out into the wider world … in a story no less filled with monsters and companions for the journey.

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.