A Game of Noctis

S. & S./Atheneum. Apr. 2024. 320p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781665930192.
Gr 3-7–Pia, 12, and her grandpa play games of strategy and luck to survive in this middle grade fantasy reminiscent of a less violent Hunger Games set on a fictional island resembling Venice. People’s scores in the Great Game are tracked by the magical gamescript that visibly appears above their palms. Anyone whose score goes down to zero becomes a pawn and is forced into servitude or sent to the dreaded Pawn Isles. Pia’s grandpa’s score falls to zero due to his poor eyesight, but he can’t afford eyeglasses, so he’s banished to the Pawn Isles. To save him, Pia joins three other misfit teens to compete in the annual Noctis tournament, where teams complete dangerous trials before a live audience. Each member of Pia’s team has a reason for competing, but to win they have to earn one another’s trust. Renzo, the header of a rival team, was Pia’s childhood best friend when she and her grandpa lived in his wealthy home, until Renzo’s conniving and ambitious father, Lord Brascia, threw them out. Pia thought the games and their rules were infallible, but she and her team realize how wrong they were—and risk their lives to change that. Fagan successfully crafts an engaging fantasy that centers young people fighting for what’s right by challenging the Great Game’s rules and their island rulers’ unfair status quo. Tween readers will keep turning pages to keep up with the twists and turns. Pia appears as white; several of her team members have darker skin. One is trans and another has two dads.
VERDICT An exciting, fast-moving story for fans who like clever, strong-willed heroines battling enormous odds.

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