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Culture Children's Books
King’s War concludes a three-book series about the kingdom of Armania, a land where people follow Arman (who represents the true God) instead of the surrounding nations’ pagan gods. Trevn struggles with his new responsibilities as king, but his wife and friends support him as he navigates the final showdown with Armania’s enemies and frenemies. The book contains endearing but flawed characters and inspiring portrayals of obedience to God despite the odds. The plot is heavy with magic: Good characters use it with self-control and wisdom, while bad characters grasp it for power. Spiritual allusions and war descriptions make the book better suited for older teens. (Ages 16 & up)
The Unblemished trilogy comes to its conclusion in Unbreakable. With her friends by her side, Eliyana Ember relies on the Verity to help her defeat the Void and take her place as queen. The story highlights friendship, loyalty, and perseverance with likable characters and engaging writing. Each chapter jumps between different characters’ perspectives, though, and readers have to sort through their jumbled thoughts and feelings, which slows the action. Themes of self-worth and identity run throughout the story as Eliyana learns to appreciate her unique strengths and weaknesses. She must also navigate a love triangle subplot that involves kissing and lots of romantic thoughts. (Ages 14 & up)
The Crescent Stone
Madeline Oliver is dying from a lung disease, but then an Elenil appears and offers her a bargain: one year of service in the Sunlit Lands for the ability to breathe freely again. She accepts the bargain and goes to the strange land with her wisecracking friend Jason Wu. As the plot unfolds, the book diverges into social injustice discussions: The main characters hear from friends who experienced discrimination because of their African-American, Chinese, or Native American heritage. While the story becomes interesting and meaningful at the end, the writing throughout is mediocre, and Jason is the only character with energy and humor. (Ages 13 & up)
Mark of the Raven
Morgan L. Busse
Selene is heir to the secretive House Ravenwood. Unbeknownst to the six neighboring houses, Selene’s cruel mother has trained her to “dreamwalk”—enter a person’s dream and manipulate fears. Selene wavers between duty to protect Ravenwood and guilt for hurting others, but when her mother targets the kind leader of House Maris, Selene must make a choice. In Mark of the Raven, Busse has crafted a well-written story with believable (if stereotypical fantasy) characters and a compelling world with unique culture and detail. Note: Some dark dreams and descriptions of suffering might make the book too intense for younger teens. (Ages 14 & up)
In The Warrior Maiden (Thomas Nelson, 2019), Melanie Dickerson reimagines the story of Mulan. After her father’s death, Mulan disguises herself as a man and takes his place in battle. In the army she meets Wolfgang, the Christian son of a German duke. He discovers her secret, and romance blossoms between them. They spend the rest of the book wondering if their feelings are mutual and whether they should express them.
Some war scenes at the beginning are brief and muted, while romance fills the second half but does not get more intense than kissing. Although the setting of 15th-century Lithuania feels strange for the story of Mulan, it provides opportunities for characters to talk about the role of the church and priests in understanding the Bible. It is a sweet story of sacrificial love, but readers expecting the Disney version may find it slow and bland. —C.C.