Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, was published in 2017 by Katherine Tegen.

At Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens, girls train to become sorceresses by learning about Spells, Potions, Wards, Summonings…and, most important, Deportment. The city’s people need sorceresses to protect them, but the magical maidens are taught to behave themselves so they don’t frighten anyone. Chantel would much rather focus on her magic than on curtseying—and sometimes she just can’t help but give people a Look. Her attitude often gets her in trouble, especially with the headmistress, the terrifying Miss Ellicott. Then Miss Ellicott mysteriously vanishes, along with all the other sorceresses in the city. Without any magic protecting the city, the fearsome Marauders threaten the lives of everyone that Chantel cares about…and even though Chantel and her friends were once banned from practicing battle spells, it’s now up to them to save the Kingdom. As they embark on this dangerous journey, Chantel must cope with a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and the patriarchs who want to control the new, fiery magic that burns inside her. But can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?

Rating: 3/5

I absolutely loved the Jinx trilogy, so I was excited to pick up this new book from Blackwood. The super cute cover also fueled my enthusiasm, as well as the idea of a magic school—because as overdone as those can be, they’re also fun to read about. And Blackwood did handle the magic school aspect well, with less emphasis on the schooling and more emphasis on the students.

I didn’t find Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded as immediately gripping and interesting as I found Jinx, however. The beginning of the book suffers from things happening much too quickly as well as an unoriginal character type and protagonist in Chantel, who luckily gets better as the book progresses. There’s also events and interactions in the first part of the book that are laid on entirely too thick, as well as a skewed sense of world—not much is built of the world, vague mentions of taxes are thrown around to incite tension, and many times “the people” or “the citizens” or such are mentioned but there is only a vague, amorphous idea attached. The city feels as if it’s inhabited only by the characters mentioned in the book by name and no others. It makes some of the final moments less tense and more vague, in my opinion. It’s nice that Chantel cares so much about her city and the people within it, but it’s harder to care with her when what she’s protecting is a faceless mass fighting another faceless mass.

The ending was also hard to swallow, particularly what happens to Chantel, but I suppose it’s believable in the sense that no one was going to argue with a girl riding a dragon. Still, I’m not particularly content—Chantel suddenly in charge seems like a little much. Perhaps the book was simply too small to get an adequate sense of development.

I enjoyed Miss Ellicott’s School, but I found too many flaws in it and had too many problems with it to be as content and happy as I was when I read Jinx. Maybe it’s just that I don’t like a majority of female protagonists; maybe because I like my fantasy worlds a little bit more developed and my plots a little less fast-paced. It’s a good book, but Blackwood has written better.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“I have to do it because I’m the Chosen One,” said Anna. “It’s what she told me.”

“She told me I was the Chosen One too,” Chantel reminded her. “But she never said anything about coming up on the roof and spinning around.”

“She told me always to remember,” said Anna. “‘At the dawning of the day/Face the sun and turn away.’”

“Why?”

“How should I know? She just did,” said Anna. “Maybe it’s some kind of spell.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2qJPjUr

Jinx’s Fire by Sage Blackwood

Jinx’s Fire, by Sage Blackwood, was published in 2015 by Katherine Tegen. It is the sequel to Jinx’s Magic.

Sometimes you have to step off the path to get where you’re going. In the Urwald, that could lead to being eaten. But Jinx has to do something, and fast: the forest is under attack, and its magic is fading. Three kings have claimed the Urwald’s land. Their armies are closing in on the forest’s borders. Jinx knows the Urwald belongs to no one but itself: the people, trees, and monsters who inhabit it. Can he convince all of them to work together with the wizards and witches to save their homeland? Jinx also needs to save Simon, and so must travel into the dangerous icy depths beneath the Glass Mountains until he reaches the nadir of things—a spot as perilous as it is powerful. Only if Jinx can summon enough of his magic—the bright fire within him—will he be able to Rescue Simon, defeat the Bonemaster, unite the Urwald, and fight off the invaders. He is the Urwald’s only hope.

This series continually impressed me and Jinx’s Fire is no exception. Although a few things didn’t work out quite as I thought they would (the portal to Samara didn’t turn out to be quite as dangerous of a thing as I thought it would be), everything in this book was immensely satisfying as well as deeply thoughtful.

Speaking of deeply thoughtful, I do wish that Blackwood had gone just one step further, pushed subjects a bit more. I found the ongoing discussion about Jinx’s dilemma about good and evil/life and death/fire and ice very interesting, but I felt it could have gone just slightly further. Or perhaps that would have been too much. I don’t know. I just felt like something was missing.

This series is a great example of a MG series that is light and humorous, but at the same time wrestles with important issues like good/evil and protecting one’s country (even if it means fighting) and living up to your full potential and other things. Jinx’s Fire deals with some serious things and has some serious moments in it; the final confrontation with the Bonemaster and Jinx waking up the trees at the end (which reminded me so much of the Ents in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) are particularly so. But it is all dealt with masterfully by Blackwood and in a way that is just perfect for MG.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Potential scary scenes, such as the Bonemaster’s death and the trees attacking the soldiers, as well as general fighting and violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Jinx, what happened to you?” Sophie asked, as everyone stumbled into the kitchen.

“Nothing,” said Jinx, looking down at himself. He was covered in blood. “It must have come from—”

In stories, when a young man is handed a sword for the first time, he instantly knows how to use it. In real life, when you run around in the dark carrying a long, double-edged knife, you generally end up cutting yourself. And that was what Jinx had done.

“It’s no big deal,” he said.

Overall Review:

Jinx’s Fire is a magnificent conclusion to a fantastic MG trilogy, one of the best I’ve read in quite a while. Blackwood handles the serious issues in the book well (although at some points I wish she had made them a bit more firm in conclusion); so well, in fact, that despite them the book is overall light-hearted and simply a joy to read (although it’s also probably the “darkest” of all three books). I will be looking out for more books by Blackwood in the future.

You can buy this here: Jinx’s Fire

Jinx’s Magic: Setting The Bar High For MG Fantasy

Jinx’s Magic is written by Sage Blackwood. It was published in 2014 by Katherine Tegen. It is the sequel to Jinx.

Jinx knows he can do magic. But he doesn’t know why he’s being stalked by a werewolf with a notebook, why the trees are starting to take back the only safe paths through the Urwald, or why the elves think Jinx and the evil Bonemaster are somehow connected. Jinx’s perilous search for answers takes him to the desert land of Samara, where, according to the wizard Simon, he just might find the ancient magic he needs to defeat the Bonemaster and unite the Urwald. But Jinx finds himself in a centuries-old conspiracy that places the Urwald in even greater danger.

I had a big fat grin on my face the entire time I was reading this book. It has such charm to it and Jinx is so endearing that I never wanted the book to end. It’s also funny, and I love the magic system, especially KnIP. Blackwood writes compellingly and immediately sucked me into the world.

While the first quarter of the book was incredibly frustrating due to Revin, I was still engaged with it from the very beginning (hence the frustration). I found myself getting anxious for Jinx’s sake and hoping that the Urwald unites to fend off the inevitable danger from four sides: Keyland, Bragwood, Samara, and the Bonemaster. I loved the growth Jinx showed throughout the book, actually listening to those around him instead of either thinking he knew better or getting frustrated, and the confrontation Blackwood is building up promises to be a good one, both in terms of plot engagement and character development.

Also, Jinx versus the preceptors in the Urwald was so awesome, even though you know that rift and the preceptors themselves will come back to haunt him.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: The Bonemaster remains creepy.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“You’re from Angara?”

Apparently that was the sort of news that got around fast about a person. “Yes.”

“Right in Agnopolis, or out in the country?”

“Um, yeah. Agnopolis.”

“Cool,” said Satya. “I spent six months in Agnopolis brushing up on my Herwa. Go Grapemen, eh?” She stuck her fist out.

Gack! Jinx tried hard to hide his alarm. He stuck his fist out too and said, “Yes. Go. Exactly.”

Overall Review:

Jinx’s Magic sucked me in right from the beginning and made me eager for the next book. It’s deliciously funny and light-hearted, yet still has its serious and tense moments, dealt with superbly by Blackwood. This book is mostly set-up for the next one, but there’s still enough conflict and growth to make the characters endearing and memorable. I’ll repeat what I said about Jinx: this book gave me all the feels.

You can buy this here: Jinx’s Magic

Jinx: One Of My New Favorite MG Books

Jinx is written by Sage Blackwood. It was published in 2013 by Harper.

Summary/Blurb:

In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter churn-riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magus.

Jinx knows that wizards are evil. But Simon’s kitchen is cozy, and he seems cranky rather than wicked. Staying with him appears to be Jinx’s safest, and perhaps only, option. As Jinx’s curiosity about magic grows, he learns to listen to the trees as closely as he does to Simon’s unusual visitors. The more Jinx discovers, the more determined he becomes to explore beyond the security of well-trodden paths.

But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest. And soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat.

Thoughts:

Excuse me while I express myself in popular terms: this book hit me right in the feels. THE FEELS. All of them. It gave me all the feels.

Seriously, though: Jinx! Simon! Jinx and Simon! Simon and Sadie! But mostly Jinx and Simon!

I adore the “cranky loner loves deeply but doesn’t show it well” plot trope, or whatever Simon falls under. At the end of the book, all I wanted to do was go around telling people, “SIMON LOVES JINX, YOU GUYS.” And this book really hit me when Jinx fell and Simon’s face was white and the reader realizes it’s not because he’s sick, as Jinx assumes, but because Jinx fell and Simon loves Jinx. And then you just want to hug Simon even though it’s basically his fault that things ended up this way, sort of, and then at the end of the book all you want to know is where Sadie is so that the happy family can be completed. Where is the next book I want it right now.

World notes: loved the witches on butter churns, loved the system of magic in general and especially Jinx’s.

Other notes: loved the “Romeo and Juliet” type romance between Simon and Sadie, and, if you hadn’t noticed, I loved Simon and Jinx’s father/son relationship (or where it ended, anyway). Elfwyn and Reven were okay, too, if somewhat generic, and the Bonemaster was deliciously creepy for a Middle Grade book.

Why is there always that one wizard character named Simon Magus? Is this supposed to be symbolic, or reflective, or just poor imaginative skills?

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Some slightly disturbing/creepy scenes and images.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

Passages/Quotes:

Jinx sat on the floor beside the skull and read whatever books Simon would let him. Sometimes when he reached for a book, Simon would glance up briefly and say, “Not that one.”

And sometimes, if Simon said that, Jinx waited till another time when the wizard wasn’t paying quite so much attention.

If Simon said nothing, Jinx would take the book, open it very cautiously in case it burst into flames, and read. Some of the books were in neither Urwish nor Samaran, but in some other language. This didn’t matter as long as you listened to the books, he realized. He wondered how many languages there were in the world, and how many places besides the Urwald.

When Sophie was visiting, she always asked Jinx about his reading. Sometimes she talked to him using the languages he’d only read in books. Jinx listened carefully—the words weren’t pronounced quite the way he’d expected—before answering her.

“Simon, the boy’s taught himself four languages,” Sophie said.

“Mm,” said Simon.

Overall Review:

It did take me a little bit to really get into Jinx, but once I did I loved it dearly. I loved Simon and Jinx’s relationship development, and even though Simon and Sadie were slightly less developed, I am eager to see if/when Sadie comes back. Reven and Elfwyn were okay characters, although slightly generic, but they had a nice rapport with Jinx. I hated the fact that Simon was named Simon, but overall, a great MG book.

You can buy this here: Jinx