HarperCollins. Mar. 2024. 432p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063269354.
Gr 10 Up–What happens when all you’ve ever known is outlawed? The kindling, elite magic-wielding warriors, torn away from their families at age five and trained to fight and die as child soldiers, find themselves without a future since the war ended. Out of touch with society, seven kindling begrudgingly band together in their nation’s countryside to help a small village defend themselves against ruthless raiders. While this fight reignites their instinctual purpose, each kindling must battle their own demons if they wish to succeed in much more than a village’s final stand. Chee pays tribute to the iconic film Seven Samurai with a reimagining in which seven soldiers (all female and nonbinary) struggle with the broken promises their country raised them on. In a story that neatly balances eight perspectives, each kindling is unique, highlighting the fallout of the choices made by the powerful that are championed by those with no other choice. The second-person narration quickly builds empathy and understanding for the characters as it’s implied that readers are fellow kindling. In true Chee fashion, the story turns a tale of seven soldiers’ final battle to one of seven human beings evaluating the hopes, dreams, and future they’ve lost. The kindling’s experiences ultimately mirror today’s teens finding their place in the world; choosing what they’ll fight for and standing with loved ones despite the uncertainty.
VERDICT A heartrending, must-read fantasy about youth searching for home and learning to survive a world not designed for them.

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