Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?
Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.
Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.
With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an 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.
Having really enjoyed my recent foray into middle grade fiction with the deliciously devilish The Beast and the Bethany, it didn’t take much for @The_WriteReads to persuade me to get involved with the blog tour for B. B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers, a magical middle grade debut set in a world where the supernatural lives alongside – yet hidden – from the everyday.
The novel centres on Amari Peters, a black girl living in a deprived neighbourhood who is whisked into the magical world of the Bureau for Supernatural Affairs following her beloved older brother Quinton’s sudden disappearance. Determined to investigate Quinton’s disappearance, Amari sets her sights on passing the Bureau’s strenuous and challenging series of tryouts in order to become a Junior Agent within the Department of Supernatural Investigations. But not everyone wants Amari to succeed. With illegal magical blood running through her veins, there are those within the Bureau who think Amari might be a threat to their safety – and those who will do nothing to stop her from finding out what happened to her brother…
Amari really is the beating heart of this novel. Whilst the world that B. B. Alston has created is a fascinating one, replete with scores of supernatural creatures and magical abilities, is was the strength of Amari’s character that really shined through for me. Forced to confront prejudice because of her skin colour and background in the everyday world, Amari is confronted with the same prejudices in the supernatural world because of her natural magical ability. As a black girl from a deprived background, she’s never fitted in at her elite school. As a magician in the Bureau, she’s the victim of sneering attitudes and cruel jibes. Despite this, Amari never lets herself be defeated. Whilst she harbours the same private doubts that we all get, her determination, selflessness and love for her brother are admirable – as is her decision to keep going in spite of the setbacks, and to change people’s minds without hurting others.
This attitude brings Amari into conflict both with those within the Bureau who would like to see her fail in her mission, and with the dangerous illegal magicians know as The Night Brothers. Hellbent on ensuring domination of the supernatural world at any cost, Raoul Moreau and his brother Vladimir brought fear and destruction wherever they went. But with Vladimir long dead and Raoul locked away in the Bureau’s prison, who is it that is releasing dangerous magical hybrids and threatening to being back their reign of terror?
Without giving away any spoilers, the ‘villains’ of the novel are a surprising bunch. There are some who are classically ‘evil’ – all dark robes and villainous schemes – but the ones that intrigued me the most were those who let their own prejudices and hatred twist the way they viewed the world around them. From the Bureau Director who can’t see beyond the legacy of his family history, to the kids in Amari’s class who won’t accept her because of her magical abilities, this is a novel that keeps prejudice – and the effects of prejudice upon both individuals and society as a whole – firmly at the heart of its story whilst also sparking that sense of wonder and transportation that a good fantasy novel gives you.
Because this really is a fantasy setting that has it all – unique personalities and technologies, a variety of supernatural beings, and a well-realised magic system. Despite the richness of the world building in Amari and the Night Brothers, there was definitely more I wanted to know about so I’m glad to hear there will be a sequel that will allow Amari’s world to expand and develop even further – I can’t wait to see more of the supernatural world beyond the Bureau, and to spend time with some of the characters who only get a brief introduction here (Agents Magnus and Fiona were particular favourites of mine, as was Amari’s weredragon best friend Elsie).
With its non-stop plot, Amari and the Night Brothers is a fast-paced and exhilarating read packed to the brim with likeable and engaging characters and magical shenanigans. Whilst there were one or two elements that I would have loved to see developed a little further, this is only the first of Amari’s adventures – so here’s hoping we get to step outside of the Bureau’s doors and delve a little more into the lives of some of the side characters as the series progresses.
For the first in a series however, Amari and the Night Brothers has everything a fantasy fan could want. An engagingly smart protagonist, a rich and unique fantasy setting, a rip-roaring romp of a plot, and some tantalising glimpses of more adventures to come! If you’ve been looking to fill the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson shaped whole in your life with a fun, diverse, and intelligent middle grade fantasy series, then Amari Peters may well be the protagonist you’re looking for!
Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston is published by Egmont Books on 21 January 2021 and is available to pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Dave from @The_WriteReads for organising and inviting me on to this tour. Use #UltimateBlogTour and #AmariPeters to check out more reviews and contents!
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