Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers, by Kirsten Miller: Sisterhood of theTraveling Underworld Explorers

Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers
Kristen Miller

Bloomsbury: New York, 2013
ISBN: 9781599907369
ARC via NetGalley - now available in print and digitally

The Irregulars have finally returned and they are as smart, empowered, and adventurous in their all-female crime-thwarting efforts as they’ve always been.  Kiki Strike has left New York and the leadership of the Irregulars in Ananka Fishbein’s hands as she heads to Paris to claim her rightful throne as the displaced Pokrovian princess.  When she and her guardian disappear somewhere over the Atlantic, Ananka is faced with the task of finding Kiki and keeping the Irregulars in check.  A solution presents itself when Betty Bent, master of disguise, is offered a position in Paris as the personal assistant to a mysterious woman who runs a finishing school, and who has taken an interest in the challenge of the irascible Molly Dent (who naturally decides to stage a revolution in the school!).  Meanwhile, Ananka is working on keeping her crush on Betty’s boyfriend Kasper in check, Oona is tracking down her evil twin, and the others are working on an untested cure for female baldness that has garnered some pharmaceutical attention.  When Kiki makes contact via a cute French boy who just happens to be part of the secret society protecting the Parisian Catacombs known as the Darkness Dwellers, things begin to come together.  With bits of romance, history, humor, charm, danger, and lots of smart, loyal, and courageous young women, The Darkness Dwellers is a welcome, long anticipated addition to Kirsten Miller’s series.   It is strongly recommended for girls (and boys cool enough to pick it up) grades 6-10, and both middle school and public libraries.  

I first read Kiki Strike: In the Shadow City nigh on five or so years ago.  I was working at an all-girls school, and took the recommendation from the middle school librarian, she of the Parantheticals.  Guys - I loved it!  Kiki Strike and the Irregulars are everything we should want for our middle-school and young high-schoolers to be reading for fun!  Sure, it is fun fiction with action and slightly unrealistic things like kids stopping major crime syndicates.  But it’s really a lot more than that.  It is slyly smart, encourages creativity and thinking outside the box, and reminds kids that while it may be a little unrealistic to expect to stop said crime syndicates, even little people can make a difference.  What I think is really notable about this series, however, is the fact that it showcases many different types of intelligence - science, engineering, mapping, history, politics, art, etc.  Even more remarkable?  It so in the form of young girls - likeable, young girls (for the most part.  Kirsten Miller needs to work on a few of them)!  While for the obvious reason, girls will probably turn to this more than boys,  I do wish boys of the middle school ages would pick these up.  Seriously, little dudes.  If you like Katniss and Alex Rider, you’ll probably also like Kiki and the other Irregulars.

Okay, but I digress.  It took FOREVER for this one to come out.  I actually waited to read the middle one, The Empress’s Tomb, until I got the ARC for Darkness Dwellers.  While I really did like this one, I did have some quibbles.  For one, I have NO memory of Ananka having feelings of any kind other than friendliness for Kaspar in the Empress’s Tomb, which left me a little confused to read in Darkness Dwellers that she’s suddenly super crushing on him...did I miss something?  While most of the girls are likeable (Spoiler alert), there are some fundamental problems I have with what sometimes feels like archetypal typecasting of characters...primarily Luz.  Now, I read the first one FIVE years ago, so I really don’t remember it...but she really doesn’t seem to do too much in the last two.  She’s just kind of...predictable.  She-Engineer?  She must be a tomboy, and she must have a lot of tools, and probably be a little rough around the edges.   Latina?  She must be a little fiesty, have an even fiestier mom, and let’s go all out and give her a rap sheet.  Seriously?  If there are any more installments, I hope Luz gets as much of a third dimension as the other characters seem to have.  Also...I really don’t like the new covers.  Given the fact that I think young boys COULD be convinced to pick these up if persuaded the right way, it kind of sucks that the cover is super girly and hot pink.  Think about it, Bloomsbury.  Those are realllllly my only quibbles though.  

I love the Iris and Oona are secret besties now, that Betty gets some serious action to prove that her sweetness is, in fact, an asset, and that she’s not a sissy, and that we get to check out another underworld city!  The Parisian Catacombs sound kind of cool.  Given that my only experience with catacombs was largely terrifying (I was the only tourist in a deserted heritage site in Alexandria, Egypt.  For context, the entrance looked like a well.  As in, giant stone hole, no lights.  It was the only time I was super pumped to take up the offer of the requisite unofficial pushy, non-English speaking “guard” to give me a tour and hold my hand to help me across planks...there were lots of holes and flickering lights...creeeeeepy!), I’d love to go to a slightly more maintained, larger network of catacombs and check it out.  History is creepy and cool!  Additionally, I loved the obvious but subtle way Miller shows her young female readers how much better they have it than women in the past, and by showing that families can be both biological AND chosen.  Anyways.  I have no idea why I’ve written so much about this, but suspect it has something to do with avoiding doing the actual work I have to do.  This book is fun; you should read it if you too are fun.  DO IT. 

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