Megan Reyes is the author of the Heroes of Havensong series for young readers. Megan lives in Northern California with her husband, four sons, two dogs, and an ever-growing collection of dragon and fox figurines. When she’s not writing, she’s probably drawing, painting, going on walks, or getting lost in a new book. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @MReyesWrites.
We absolutely loved Dragonboy, so we were thrilled to interview Megan Reyes for this month's feature!
Rapunzel Reads: One of my favorite parts of Dragonboy was the worldbuilding--I was always completely engrossed in the setting, and there were many elements, like the companion magics, unlike anything I can remember reading before. Do you have a favorite part about the world of Haven? If so, why?
Megan Reyes: I'm thrilled to hear you enjoyed your journey in Haven. Honestly, imagining Haven took years and it is such a blast for me to come up with details about each and every corner of the Northern and Southern realms (both of which will be explored further in future books). It's hard to choose a favorite part, but if I could visit, I would first want Blue to give me a tour of the Gerberan stables, where he grew up. Then I'd want to visit Meraki Island because I imagine it to be as beautiful as Hawaii--plus I'd love to see all the Magics roaming around. Lastly, I'd probably mostly want to hang out on Dragon Mountain because the Dragon Growers are really low-key and relaxed.
Author photo credit: Elaine Kendrick
Author Interview: Megan Reyes
The Manifestor Prophecy (Nic Blake and the Remarkables, Book 1) by Angie Thomas (2023)
Nic Blake is a Manifestor—which, up until now, hasn’t meant a whole lot other than always needing to move when Unremarkable, non-magical humans figure out that there’s something weird about her and her dad. But today is Nic’s twelfth birthday, and she’s hoping that the hellhound pup her dad gives her isn’t the only present he’s planning. She’s been asking him to teach her how to use her magic for years, and maybe now he’ll deem her old enough.
But before she can start pestering her dad again, Nic’s life is utterly upended when her favorite author and a mysterious women crash into her life—and bring the Remarkable police not far behind them. With her dad imprisoned for a crime Nic’s certain he couldn’t have committed and no idea who to go to, Nic teams up with her Unremarkable best friend and a twin brother she never knew she had to clear her dad’s name the only way she knows how—by finding the weapon the Remarkables think he stole before he's sentenced to a terrible fate.
Pursued by the Remarkable police, Nic and her friends must uncover the truth about everyone from a resentful ex-Chosen One to a group of dangerous, magic-wielding Unremarkables if she wants to save her dad in time—but that might mean learning truths about herself she’d have rather stayed hidden.
Witty, fast-paced, and exciting, Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy was utterly awesome. Nic is a fiery, fierce, adventurous heroine who I couldn’t help but love; her determination and passion drive the story through all its twists, and I’m so glad I get to follow her through more books in the series! The supporting cast particularly shone as well, especially the adults like Nic’s parents and the ex-Chosen One (one of my personal favorites!), who felt in some ways as fleshed out and vivid as the story’s protagonists. From the first few chapters there was clearly so much depth to their history and stories, and I can’t wait to get to know all of them better in the sequel. As someone who loves subverted tropes, I particularly enjoyed Thomas’s reimagining of the classic Chosen One into something unique and far more interesting, bringing extra depth to a tale that raised interesting questions about the way we tell stories. Indeed, the unexpected depth to what easily could’ve been a straightforward story was part of why I loved it so much; as in Thomas’s other books, she doesn’t shy away from the reality of being a Black kid in America, an honesty seen too rarely in contemporary fantasy novels that only became more powerful through Nic’s indignance that that the Remarkables didn’t use their magic to help Unremarkables in the larger world. Although very different from Angie Thomas’s other books, it shares their self-awareness, powerfully realistic characters, and engrossing writing—all the hallmarks of what make Thomas’s books so amazing. Action-packed and clever, I highly recommend The Manifestor Prophecy to readers ages nine and up.
Everyone seems to have their own opinion on Marlene’s frizzy hair. For Marlene’s mother, it’s that curly hair should be straightened every week at the salon, yanked and prodded by a much-hated stylist. To her family, it’s only remotely manageable and presentable when it’s styled her mother’s way, but even then, it’ll never live up to her cousin’s Diana’s gorgeous, flowing, straight golden locks. And for Marlene’s classmates? Her hair is just something else to make fun of her for.
Marlene just wishes that she didn’t always have to be so careful to keep her hair tame like the whole world seems to want her to—no running, no dancing, and definitely not any attempts to style it her own way. But with the help of her best friend Camilla and her beloved tía Ruby, Marlene begins to realize that her hair is most beautiful when she wears it the way she wants to—and that maybe she can show everyone else just how lovely it can be, too.
Frizzy is absolutely wonderful. The sweet, pithy writing of Claribel A. Ortega (also the author of Witchlings) blends with Rose Bousamra’s beautiful, evocative illustrations to create a moving, lovely graphic novel about the prejudices of those around us and the capacity of each of us to be beautiful. Quirky and relatable, I couldn’t help but read Frizzy in one sitting—I was pulled into Marlene’s story from the first page thanks to her struggles with self-identity and how others perceive her, universal questions that gave the book such depth. Perhaps best of all was the realism of Marlene’s interactions with other characters, particularly her family; ranging from awful to heartwarming, they truly brought the story alive with dimensionality and authenticity. I highly recommend Frizzy to readers ages eight and up, particularly more reluctant readers or those looking for an affirming, realistic story.
The Dragon’s Promise is the sequel to Six Crimson Cranes and the final book in the Six Crimson Cranes duology by Elizabeth Lim.
Look out – there are spoilers for Six Crimson Cranes below!
Shiori promised her stepmother before her death that she would return her broken dragon pearl to its rightful owner. And now, Shiori is determined to fulfil it—even if it means risking her life when she enters the underwater dragon kingdom, Ai’long, with the full intention of outwitting its infamous ruler.
There, she must navigate a complex web of politics, relationships, and powerful magic which could doom her to a fate worse than death. But above the ocean’s surface, a far more disastrous challenge is brewing, and it will be up to Shiori to escape the dragon’s kingdom, return her stepmother’s pearl, and defeat a powerful force of evil once and for all before it destroys her homeland forever.
The Dragon’s Promise was an unusual but satisfying series-closer which tied together the myriad threads from Six Crimson Cranes and its own story. As before, Lim’s settings and descriptions are highly atmospheric, and I particularly enjoyed the sections set in Ai’long – the dragons’ world and society felt distinct and unique, and I liked the complex interpersonal and political conflicts there. The plotline surrounding Shiori’s stepmother was also excellent and one of my favorite parts of this duology; the ‘wicked stepmother’ trope is so common that Lim’s thoughtful and interesting reversal of it was definitely a highlight, and gave this book a deeper emotional core. I recommend The Dragon’s Promise and the Six Crimson Cranes duology to readers ages twelve and up.
Ellen likes everything to be organized and planned out ahead. And thanks to her parents and her best friend, Laurel, that’s never been a problem, just like it’s never been a big deal that she likes girls and is autistic. But lately, Laurel has been spending less and less time with her, and Ellen isn’t sure what to do. The class trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect time to reconnect with her best friend.
But Ellen’s careful plans go awry almost immediately. Laurel hangs out with her new friends instead of Ellen, and even though she invites her to hang out, Ellen feels out of place with the other girls. A new nonbinary classmate who Ellen can’t help but like leaves her questioning the categories she’s always used to think about the world. And on top of it all, the trip’s schedule turns out completely differently than Ellen expected when they get separated into teams to go on a treasure hunt across Barcelona—and Laurel isn’t on Ellen’s team.
This summer won’t be anything like Ellen expected, but maybe she’ll be able to find somewhere new she belongs—and discover a few things about herself, too.
Thoughtful, sensitive, and engrossing, I loved Ellen Outside the Lines. A. J. Sass’s debut, Ana on the Edge, was one of my absolute favorites last year, and Ellen Outside the Lines fully lived up to the expectations that book set. Ellen was an awesome protagonist—her voice was so strong throughout the novel, and her questions and struggles felt utterly familiar and sympathetic. I loved the setting, too, particularly as Ellen and her friends explored Barcelona; the vivid descriptions and sprinkling of Spanish and Catalan made me feel as though I was walking the streets right beside her. Sweet, relatable, and exciting, I highly recommend Ellen Outside the Lines to readers ages nine and up.
Once, the land of Haven was unified and peaceful, with humans, dragons, and Magics inhabiting the world side by side. But after three disastrous conflicts and centuries of separation, the peoples of Haven have as good as forgotten that old name, divided by magic, borders, and beliefs into a fractured world hovering on the edge of all-out war.
And now, with a nefarious chancellor tipping their world headfirst into war, only four people can save it:
Blue, a boy-turned-dragon who knows far more about stables than saving much of anything.
River, a girl with an exciting future who is devastated and furious when Blue steals that her by choosing her as his rider.
Wren, whose coming-of-age ceremony goes awry when the companion Magic that was supposed to bond with her instead escapes to the Mainland—a place so dangerous her people consider it treason to go there.
Shenli, a young soldier determined to fulfil his family’s debt to the chancellor, no matter what it takes—a resolution that becomes increasingly difficult when he meets Wren and realizes not everything magical deserves his hatred.
Unified by determination, unlikely power, and a mysterious, meddling floating golden thread, it’s up to these four total strangers—friends?—to save their world from disaster, and perhaps even make it whole once more.
Complex, vivid, and fast-paced, Dragonboy is perfect for anyone who loves epic middle-grade fantasy series like Septimus Heap, Wilderlore, and Talespinners. Incorporating many familiar fantasy tropes like prophecies, empires, and dragons but putting an entirely fresh twist on every one, the worldbuilding and layered plotting pulled me into this story immediately. In fact, as soon as I read the irresistibly quirky opening— “Every twenty-five years, the king of Gerbera is eaten by a dragon. It is tradition.”—I knew this was going to be a book I would love. Indeed, I did. Every element of the worldbuilding was engrossing and interesting, but I particularly loved the companion Magics; I’ve read so many books with different magic systems, but this was one that truly felt unique. I loved all the characters—although sometimes stories with four points of view are confusing, the characters and storylines were all distinct enough that I had no trouble keeping track of them, and it was so fun to watch their paths cross and their tales continue to unfold. I’m already looking forward to the rest of the series! I highly recommend Dragonboy to anyone ages nine and up who loves middle-grade fantasy, particularly with multiple points of view.
Imani is a Shield, tasked with protecting the desert-swathed kingdom of Qalia from the monsters that patrol the dangerous, surrounding sands. With an affinity for metal granted by the magical tea that gives Imani’s people their magic, her ferocity and talent has earned her the nickname of Djinni Slayer.
But Imani is only following in the footsteps of her older brother, Atheer, who was once a great Shield too. Now, though, his reputation is ruined after he was accused of stealing Qalia’s tea, sure proof to the rest of the world that he wasn’t who they thought he was. More than anything, Imani wants to know why he did it—but Atheer vanished a year ago, believed to have died in the desert, and the answers he might have provided gone with him.
When Imani stumbles across Qayn, a djinni who claims to have known her brother, she’s torn between her duty as a Shield and her desire to uncover what really happened to Atheer—a decision made all the more difficult when Qayn tells her that Atheer was smuggling tea magic to the people beyond the desert, people who, according to all Imani’s been taught, aren’t even supposed to exist.
Alongside Qayn and Taha, an arrogant Shield who has been Imani’s longtime rival, she sets out across the desert to uncover what really happened to Atheer before he endangers her home. But when what she’s been raised to believe and her beloved brother’s ideas are in conflict, who can Imani believe?
Spice Road is an atmospheric, evocative, and fast-paced fantasy adventure perfect for fans of intense, worldbuilding YA books like An Ember in the Ashes. The world of Qalia immediately pulled me in; the uniqueness of magic-infused tea and the difficulties which came with it—like needing to drink the tea frequently for power to be maintained—felt utterly natural and fully realized, a far cry from many fantasy magic systems that are unique in concept but contrived in execution. But even more than the magic, I loved the blend of a seemingly utopian society and its entrenched prejudices, two sides to this country which played out beautifully through its varied characters and the conflicts which rose organically between them through their wildly different views on the same society and its institutions. This natural, authentic interplay honestly sums up the characters of Spice Road; from the first page, Imani’s conflict and determination helped carry her struggles and journey throughout the story. But the characters are always at their best when interacting with others, because these conversations and conflicts serve to develop each of them and reveal the unique prejudices, views, backgrounds, and relationships which make them come alive so vividly. I’m already looking forward to the sequel! Detailed and absorbing, I highly recommend Spice Road to readers ages thirteen and up.
Frances, a young seamstress in Paris, is sure she’s about to lose her job. She’s long dreamed of crafting unconven-tional, spectacular gowns, but without the credits or accomplishments she needs to be taken seriously, her inadvis-able foray into more creative designs has just made her traditionalist employer furious. But instead of ruining her career, Frances’s work attracts the attention of a wealthy customer who offers her a new position—one where her creativity isn’t hemmed in by someone else’s notions of what shouldn’t be done. To her surprise, the customer is the crown prince, Sebastian.
Sebastian has always loved dresses, and now more than ever—with his parents pushing him to find the perfect princess to marry—he needs to escape the palace to find people who see him for who he really is. When he glimpses Frances’s flamboyant handiwork, he knows immediately he wants to hire her himself—and when she agrees, it seems like a dream come true for both of them.
For the first time, Frances is able to make whatever dresses she likes. And while Sebastian still has to play the perfect prince during the day, courting princesses and pleasing his parents, at night he and Frances slip into the city and he becomes Lady Crystallia, wealthy and unconventional, whose dress sense is admired and whose true identity is a carefully kept secret.
But how long can this secret be kept? And if Frances remains a secret’s dressmaker, can she ever become the famous seamstress of her dreams?
I absolutely loved The Prince and the Dressmaker. The stunning, atmospheric illustrations drew me immediately into Frances’s story; the tale flew by far quicker than I wanted it to! There was so much beauty to this story, both in the pictures and the plot itself; Frances’s quirky determination and Sebastian’s lonely hope sprang to life with vividness and sensitivity, blending together into a lovely, whimsical tale full of friendship and realism that feels as genuine as it does lovable. I particularly loved Sebastian’s understanding of his identity, which is fluid and natural instead of feeling predetermined or contrived. I highly recommend The Prince and the Dressmaker to anyone who loves queer graphic novels, particularly those with happy endings.
Note: I first picked up The Prince and the Dressmaker because of FalconX’s awesome review of it several years ago—you can read it here!
Whiteout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon (2022)
The snowstorm of a century has hit Atlanta. Every radio station and TV channel is advising everyone to stay home. But for Stevie, staying home is not an option--not when tonight is her last chance to apologize to her girlfriend, Sola, and show her how much she means to her. And she's not going to be able to pull off something this big on her own.
Told through a set of overlapping, intertwining stories, Whiteout is the story of Stevie and her friends' attempt to reunite her and Sola in a way so big, so meaningful, that she won't be able to help but forgive her--and each of them falling in love along the way.
I don't usually read romance novels, but I love short stories, particularly intercon-nected ones, and so I couldn't resist Whiteout! It didn't disappoint. With each chapter a mini-story centering around a different character's role in Stevie's grand plan (and each character written by a different one of the book's authors), every character's tale felt different and unique, offering a different angle and layer of storytelling which led to a book which felt well-rounded, unique, and satisfying. Although I liked all of the characters, Stevie was definitely a favorite, whose love of science, sometimes painful flaws, and determination helped make her a protagonist I was committed to seeing succeed. I recommend Whiteout to readers ages twelve and up who enjoy romance or interconnected short stories.
Author Interview: A. J. Sass
The Ever Storms is the third book in the ongoing Wilderlore series; the previous books in the series are The Accidental Apprentice (book 1) and The Weeping Tide (book 2).
Look out—there are spoilers for earlier books in the series in the review!
After facing off with Audrian Keyes and saving the Wilderlands and the Elsewheres—twice—Barclay Thorne is ready for a break. But instead, he and his fellow apprentices, Viola and Tadg, are bound for the Symposium, a series of courses at one of the Lorekeepers’ most prestigious schools in the heart of the Desert.
As an Elsie and outsider to the Lorekeeper world, Barclay is pretty sure he’s going to be scrambling to keep up. And that’s even without the Tourney, an infamous prank war between the Symposium’s students which his friends expect him to be part of, too.
But when a series of mysterious sandstorms known as the Ever Storms appear across the desert, Barclay and his friends might be the only ones who can find their source and stop them before they give rise to something even more disastrous.
I truly love the Wilderlore series, and The Ever Storms was just as good as its predecessors. Witty and magical, this is a perfect middle-grade read for anyone who loves sprawling fantasy series that sparkle with uniqueness and yet take advantage of the familiar. I love Foody’s worldbuilding—every Wilderland is full of interesting details and vivid descriptions, and the Beasts and their powers are both varied and so intriguing. Barclay and his friends, particularly as the series progresses, are such good characters—all distinct and funny, their interactions, relationships, and interactions are consistently engrossing and likable, and I’m so glad to get to know some of them better in this book. I already can’t wait for book 4! I highly recommend The Ever Storms to readers ages nine and up, particularly those who love fantasy series like Septimus Heap and Poppy Pendle.
For a century, Mina’s people have cast a beautiful girl into the ocean every year to become the Sea God’s Bride, and appease his wrath. It is believed only this can keep the storms that have plagued her homeland at bay—and that, one day, the Sea God’s true bride will put an end to the chaos altogether.
But when Shim Cheong is chosen as the sacrifice, Mina refuses to let the girl her beloved brother loves become just another girl vanishing beneath the waves. When the time comes for her to be thrown into the sea, Mina leaps into the sea in her stead—and is thrust into a world full of secrets and gods, where old tales provide only the barest guidance, and her future—or lack thereof—might depend on a single red thread.
Here, Mina must uncover a plot against the Sea God, unravel the rivalries and factions of those who live beneath the sea, and choose between two worlds if she wants to save the world she came from, and all those she left behind.
I fully admit that the stunning cover is the reason I first picked up The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea—but the imaginative worldbuilding, unexpected twists, and strong characters are why I kept reading. The atmospheric setting and strong mythological threads added such depth to all the details and moments; I often felt as though I could see the whole world around Mina. Particularly as the story drew on, there were several twists I wholly wasn’t expecting, and the multilayered relationships, alliances, old feuds, and disagreements of the gods and other beings who inhabit this world gave the whole story a complexity and secretiveness I highly enjoyed. The absorbing, beautiful prose was also utterly amazing! I highly recommend The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea to readers ages twelve and up.
Author Interview: Deva Fagan
The Secrets of the Stormforest (Strangeworlds Travel Agency, Book 3) by L D Lapinski (2022)
The Secrets of the Stormforest is the third book in L D Lapinski's middle-grade fantasy Strangeworlds Travel Agency series. It is preceded by Strangeworlds Travel Agency and The Edge of the Ocean, both of which we also loved--we chose the series overall as one of our favorites of 2022!
[Look out--there are spoilers for books 1 & 2 below!]
Ever since Flick Hudson discovered the Strangeworlds Travel Agency and met Jonathan Mercator, who oversees the travel through the multiverse via portals trapped in suitcases, her life has become extraordinary. But now, as Flick begins to understand the truth about the travel agency and the dangers facing the many worlds, she discovers that not just Strangeworlds, but the entire multiverse, might be in danger.
Now, with Jonathan and Avery by her side, Flick must race to find a suitcase with the power to destroy the multiverse--before it is used to tear apart every magical place she's ever found.
I adored Flick and Jonathan's previous adventures, each full of quirky twists, awesome characters, and a sense of inarguable magic. The Secrets of the Stormforest's only flaw is that it's the final book in the trilogy! With everything that made books one and two so wonderful, plus unfolding secrets, impending disaster, and a series of stunning plot twists I never would have expected, there was so much to love about this story. As in the earlier books, Lapinski's characters are extraordinary; I felt so much for Flick, Jonathan, Avery, and the entire cast over the course of this book, who are made utterly relatable by their vulnerability, flaws, bravery, and connections to one another. Everything came together with beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking perfection, and threads both anticipated and unexpected from the previous books wove into a story I didn't want to end. I highly recommend the Strangeworlds Travel Agency series to anyone who loves heartwarming, exciting adventures, strong characters, and immersive worldbuilding, ages nine and up.
Thea Fowler was supposed to be as ruthless as her infamous mother, Clementine, has become. In the weeks, months, after the disaster that des-troyed her home, she was supposed to learn that the only way to have power in a world ruled by men is to take it for yourself. She was supposed to be audacious and commanding and stoic. She was supposed to be as terrifying and steely as Clementine herself, who has hardened in her resolve into the most dangerous pirate on the seas.
She was supposed to be just like Clementine, just like her mother, who has turned all her old pain and fury into becoming a person who men will have no choice but to listen to.
But all Thea has learned is that she will never live up to her mother’s ex-pectations—that, to her, she will always be weak. All she’s learned is that being Thea—quiet Thea, emotional Thea—will never be enough.
It should be easy: running away with a handsome boy who says he loves her for all the reasons Clementine has berated her all her life. It should be easy, making a new path for herself, away from the swaying decks and painful expectations of her mother’s ships.
Making a new path for herself. It’s what Clementine would have done.
But Clementine’s version of strength can only bring Thea so far when she has always failed at being her mother’s daughter. And when old and new betrayals crisscross through Thea’s life—most painfully of all, her own—she must find her own way of being strong.
I first read The Sea Knows My Name immediately after its release, and despite all my plans to the contrary, it kept me up far later than I intended, absorbed utterly in Thea’s world. But it took several months of thoughtful contemplation, and then a reread, for me to figure out how to properly write a review on it. Full of powerful, lyrical prose and realism so unshakable that it electrifies every sentence, this is one of the most stunning books I have read in years—and it took some time to decide how to write a review that would do it justice.
I utterly fell in love with this book. Robson (also the author of Girls at the Edge of the World) creates a world and a set of characters so vividly real it almost feels wrong to call this book fantasy. After all, this story is nothing like classic fantasy novels or even a typical pirate tale, full of swashbuckling triumphs, twinkling fairies, and the unmovable hand of destiny. Instead, it is nuanced, as quiet and emotional as its protagonist, and as thoughtful and powerful as Robson’s debut. Unconventional in the best possible way, this is a tale about family and stories, about the devastating expectations of a patriarchal world and the different kinds of strength it takes to live in it. Instead of falling into traditional patterns of storytelling and expectations concerning how women are treated and portrayed, The Sea Knows My Name actively stands up against them.
Thea defies and stands up to the expectations of her society without openly defying them, reminding the reader undeniably that there is more than one way to be a woman, and that being quiet or having feelings does not mean you accept or embody the expectations of a patriarchal society. Conversely, Clementine is in so many ways the classic YA fantasy heroine from the early 2010s—ruthless, determined, and feminist because she wants to set herself apart (the infamous ‘not like other girls’ trope). Thea openly defies this, contradicting the idea that one must be masculine and unemotional to be feminist, but in her own way, Clementine does not fall into the stereotype, either. They are, neither of them, wrong or stereotypical; instead, they are both strong in different ways, and Robson’s subtle yet determined way of weaving this thread and the contrast between them is utterly extraordinary.
With every plot twist and image, every line of dialogue, Robson builds a world and a story so spectacular that feeling ambivalent about this book is utterly out of the question. With vibrancy, realism, and a sometimes painful determination to tell the truth, she weaves something fulfilling out of Thea’s pain and conflict and all the patriarchy and control in the world, something that leaves the reader both empowered and deeply touched by the singular power Robson wields with this deceptively simple, lyrical novel. Raising questions about silence, freedom, love, power, strength, expectation, feminism, judgement, survival, and so much more, perhaps the starkest beauty of all in The Sea Knows My Name is its ability to weave so much together into a narrative that does not content itself with being simply ‘convincing,’ but is utterly real. We need more books with characters like Thea, and more writers as thoughtful and powerful as Robson. Devastating, beautiful, and full of deft realism, I highly recommend The Sea Knows My Name to readers ages thirteen and up.
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