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The Black Coats by Colleen Oakes
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: February 12, 2019
The Black Coats is a timely thriller about a secret society of vigilante teen girls with one important measure in common, they have lost someone close to them and will exact revenge through their participation in this elite group. They receive assignments, or “balancings” where they are directed to target men who have used their privilege to harm women and have gone unpunished by the law. Thea used to be a track star, but bereft by her cousin’s death and unable to think of anything else, she joins the secret society, the Black Coats.
As Thea and her team of vigilante misfits even scores, it becomes obvious that no situation is black and white, when there is a lot of gray. This book examines grief, revenge, and loss, but in an action packed way sure to hold teens attention and challenge them to think about what justice means.
Though it requires a heavy amount of suspension of disbelief, the novel features a secret matriarchal society, which is well-done. The premise of high school girls exacting revenge on men who abuse women is both enthralling and impactful given the #MeToo movement. While the action seemed predictable at times, the twists in the second half of the book are unexpected and exciting.
Incredibly fun to read, hand to teen readers who enjoyed Colleen Oakes’ other books, such as her Queen of Hearts Saga, or other stories featuring women vigilantes or strong feminist themes in a less realistic setting, such as comics like Batgirl and Birds of Prey or Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls.
–Audrey Hopkins & Laura Giunta
Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers / Penguin Publishing Group
Publication Date: February 26, 2019
Blending fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, and mystery genres, Four Dead Queens explores the murders of the four queens of Quadara. Told through multiple perspectives, our main characters are Keralie and Varin. Keralie is an unreliable narrator—she is a master pickpocket/thief so her whole survival is based on her abilities to tell lies on command and to play roles. Varin is her opposite in every way—he is honest, believes the best in everyone, and goes about his limited days doing his job. Secondary characters include Quadara’s four queens; each personality is different and each have secrets they hide despite the queenly law that dictates their behavior. While each is responsible for those born in their homeland, the queens rule from one chamber in the capital.
The pacing helps to keep readers engaged with action scenes spaced throughout to keep the reader hooked and moving forward in the story. Interspersed within the speculative setting is the mystery that leads to a climax that wraps up the story nicely, keeping the pacing moving throughout. The setting is not as richly detailed as you might expect from a speculative fiction title, but this will help those not as familiar with the genre to stay engaged in the story.
Give this to readers who want to experience fantasy or science fiction who cannot commit to a full series or to those who may be reluctant to move into a speculative realm. Read-alikes include standalone fantasy thrillers like Uncharted by Erin Cashman or Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas as well as fantasies with a matriarchal government such as Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series.
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