SPFBO 7 SEMIFINALIST CROSS REVIEW: The Gatekeeper’s Staff by Antoine Bandele

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This was one of Kristen’s semifinalists and I was glad to see we have a wide variety of genres and character types represented in our semifinalist group. This is a YA story based on our Earth in Los Angeles.

The main character, TJ, is a pretty likable kid whose family is going through a tragedy. His sister has died and her demise remains a mystery, and one that’s eating away at TJ. He’s 14 years old and I found him mature, but not unbelievably mature for his age. He handles his sister’s death better than I would as an adult if my brother died. He does however “act his age” many times with headstrong decisions and not totally thinking things through, as a young teenager is prone to do. I liked him though, I found him to be relatable and easy to root for his success.

After his sister’s death he develops powers and since this is new to him, he has to learn how to control and become effective with his magic. So, in pops the magic school trope and I quite liked it. It’s set in New Orleans which was neat, I think I’ve only ever read one other book set in that city and it’s such a colorful unique place with an underlying sense of magic all its own.

The mythology and magic were based on West African cultures and the Yoruba religion and there are spirits called Orishas that were really neat. I always love being introduced to new concepts, new fantasy creatures/entities and since I read so much and I’ve been reading for so long, I usually just see new versions of old tropes.

I read through this very quickly, the writing was light and breezy and got out of the way of the story. It was simple, but that’s not a complaint. I think it’s an understated skill to have simple effective prose that convey what you want without becoming overly verbose. I was able to read through this whole story in two sittings in the same day and enjoyed myself.

To set a tone for all this, I am not usually a YA person. I become quickly bored with plotlines that are too simple or overdone/over represented and I set them down more often than not. I finished this one and enjoyed it, so if you ARE a YA person I would definitely mark this one down as something refreshing and different. I also want to point out that not many boys of color get to see themselves represented in fantasy, so let’s see some more Black boys as MCs 🙂

Again, I’m declining to rate anything until we decide on our finalist, but I do hope this got people’s attention and it finds an audience 😀

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