Curse of the Specter Queen

Disney-Hyperion. (Samantha Knox). Jun. 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781368063982.
Gr 9 Up–Sam Knox values her quiet work as an antiquarian bookseller, but a mysterious diary delivered to the bookshop results in strange men burning down the store and threatening her life. Sam, her estranged best friend, and her childhood crush are forced into a whirlwind adventure involving cryptology, archaeology, history, and intrigue, all leading to a mysterious and dangerous occult order in Dublin, Ireland. The story is quickly paced and well written; dialogue in particular is witty and believable. The adventure takes time to kick in but is fast and furious once it does. Faults lie in the rushed development of characters, who stay flat and unconvincing for most of the book despite supposed lifelong ties and a gradual romance. It’s also hard to nail down the right audience for this book, which attempts to mash together fantasy, history, mystery, and archaeology. No one genre seems to stand out, which leaves the focus muddled. Teens will struggle to relate to the focus on wealthy white college-aged kids in a 1920s setting where no one has much agency or growth; external events just seem to happen, and Sam in particular lacks control over events until the very end. The cryptology and mystery aspect will appeal to older readers who enjoyed Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer or Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society.
VERDICT A secondary purchase for public and school libraries with a healthy budget and sophisticated older teen readers who like to read across genres.

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