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I picked up a paperback from my library’s new books shelf. Turns out this is a teen/middle-grade adventure story compendium. 331 pages. Several science fiction stories. There is a promo for Guys Read, a library of books to help guys read at the end. Each story is about short novella length, with a drawn greyscale illustration at the start. Most feature boy protagonists (BtGG has a girl protagonist).

Percy Jackson and the Singer of Apollo by Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson is a demigod. His father is Poseidon, god of the sea. Having supernatural powers seems cool but Percy’s life is full of god-sized egos and recalcitrant monsters.

Bouncing the Grinning Goat by Shannon Hale – At home Spark spends all her time doing chores and looking after the younger children. But she longs to escape boring domestic work for adventure. One day she borrows her brother’s sword and armour and runs away from home.

The Scout by D.J. MacHale – A longer story (52 pages). Scouts wear uniform. Scouts follow the leader. Scouts get to travel in rocket ships to explore far away planets. It seems like Kit, a trainee scout, is on a wilderness survival course but there is a twist. In the ending there is a parallel between the protagonist’s world and tribal regions of Pakistan. For readers who draw the parallel, the Scout condones drone attacks and condones killing children (families are erased from the Scout).

Rise of the RoboShoesTM by Tom Angleberger – Short funny with comical illustrations about walking aids that get an idea for world domination! Unable to walk, the fall of humans is assured! But there could be another sartorial contender on the horizon.

The Dirt on Our Shoes by Neal Shusterman – Funny and gross story of colonising a new planet, by one means or another.

Plan B by Rebecca Stead – Amusing story from the perspective of an alien family masquerading as people to spy on Earth. The aliens aren’t perfect at pretending to be humans so they sometimes make mistakes and have to remind each other to breath.

A Day in the Life by Shaun Tan – a short graphic story, each page is a line-shaded fantastic life scene with a caption.

The Klack Bros. Museum by Kenneth Oppel – Ghost story. When young Luke is delayed between stops on a railway journey, his father suggests that they visit a creepy museum.

The Warlords of Recess by Eric Nylund – Charming children’s story about an alien invasion of an elementary school. A rule-bound Alien Empire set their sights on Earth. Conquest rule 39 requires that alien warriors win three battles against the Eathlings before the Aliens may conquer Earth. Mistaking 12-year-old pupils outside at recess in an Elementary School for trained combat warriors, the alien warriors land and begin gunking kids with sticky green slime. The fate of the Earth depends on Josh and Tony, two geeky kids watching from the sidelines – do the aliens have a weakness that they can exploit to save the Earth?

Frost and Fire by Rad Bradbury – The longest novella. A stunning imaginative portrayal of a quickened life on an alien planet. Some stretching vocabulary.

Dragons dream. Mages scheme. Innocents die.

This book is a fantastic alternative 19th century steampunk novel by Kate Elliott.

The first few chapters are dense with world-building details of the alternative history e.g. special vocabulary. Ice sheets cover Scandinavia and Scotland. The lower sea level leaves a land bridge between alt- Great Britain and France.
Soon, a close family relationship between two cousins, Bee and Cat, is revealed. Cat is obsessed with learning the truth about her father – which may be contained in his journals.
I enjoyed the breathless characterisation, constant squabbling and reconciling, which becomes poignant as fate unfolds. Promised in marriage to a member of the powerful mysterious Cold Mages, before birth, one of the cousins is cruelly torn away (without warning) from the life she knew.

It’s okay to be a Magical Girl in a Magical World but… when the story took a turn into the spirit world I found the plot formulaic.

The text repeats the history of the Phoenicians too often without seeming to add anything (yes it’s plausible that traumatised Cat would go back to her childhood stories but the narrator could elide repetitions “once again, she repeated to the djeliw the history of her people.”) This is a 500-page book in a series. Did the author or the editor try to save readers from verbosity?

The forced-marriage/anti-romance relationship annoys me – I’m exasperated by the possible (hinted?) future romance between Cat and the naive young Cold Mage (who whenever an opportunity arrises to think of others, drops the ball), the forced husband.

I don’t understand (magical girl/spirit of lightness?!) why Cat doesn’t even wish him harm when she has opportunities to claw or kill him (even after he humiliates and does violence to her, the life of a Romantic Girl!). Scenes in the husband’s home village show a more gentle side of his character. There are possible hints that practising Cold Magic is addictive and self-destructive.

Mercy! After the long boring spiritual journey, a welcome return to diverse breathless adventures. The girls comment on the Romantic plot wryly.

On balance, the prideful on/off hot/cold relationship between Cat and the Cold Mage adds welcome twists to the plot.

The ending is rather convenient, some family secrets are revealed, and portentous words are spoken. Judgement if the cliffhanger is profoundly symmetrical or a cheap stunt awaits my examination of the second book in the Spirit Walker trilogy, Cold Fire.

Rating: 7/10. I could have read hundreds of pages of adventures in one sitting. The spiritual middle took a long time to say a little.

The edition of Cold Magic I read was a paperback with ISBN 9781841498812.

Certain scenes in which Magical Girls were being chased but somehow found time to make a camouflaged pit trap, or pick a lock, stretched dramatic license.

In an acknowledgements section after the end, the author confesses to assisting children the assistance of children with the work. Nevertheless she insists that any melodrama is entirely her own responsibility.