I am DELIGHTED to be taking part in the Ultimate Blog Tour for Amari and the Night Brothers by BB Alston which is quite frankly such an thrilling and fresh take on the magical fish out of water genre that I can hardly hold my excitement in.
The crunch of it could be summed up as Men in Black meets Percy Jackson in Nevermoor.
If you loved Nevermoor, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency or Nicki Thornton’s Seth Seppi Mysteries for the tickle of magic, mystery and a dash of fun amongst the seriously cool adventure as much as I do you will love this and I can’t wait for the film and follow up books!!
And um.. you may want to get yourself a drink and a biscuit before settling in!!
Amari has hit rock bottom. Her scholasrship revoked for standing up to bullies, her mum working ever long hours at the hospital and her superstar brother missing suspected by police of secretly belonging to a gang she feels utterly hopeless… until a briefcase is delivered to her brother’s wardrobe and invites her to a supernatural infused world of The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs where fantastical and mythic creatures not only exist but coexist alongside the mundane world of humanity.
Amari was nominated to join the training programme but at the power revealing ceremony there is a terrible reveal, that Amari is a magician, something humans are not allowed to be but she must prove herself to belong in order to find her brother.
There is a rich heritage of fantasy that Alston has drawn on in creating Amari’s world, throughout reading it feels both comfortingly familiar and yet fresh and unique.
The familiar ideas of a ‘training school’ environment, tests revealing hidden attributes, trials and suddenly dealing with notoriety ‘Fish out of water’ and ‘bad guy on the rise’ tropes ground us and help the reader sink into Amari’s new world with her, we find comfort in the familiar enough to open our hearts and minds to the new.
Whilst one could point out shared concepts from Percy Jackson, Divergent, The Apprentice Witch and more, this is not saying at all that BB Alston is imitating these, not at all, these are merely tropes and concepts that are familiar to us and help a reader to orientate themselves strongly in the plot, and in this situation are very useful to convey a lot of information and world building without an information dump. BB Alston cleverly plays the familiar as base blocks to get us excited about the new world-building he layers around and decorates with.
I will draw positive parallels to Nevermoor in particular as a way of celebrating how wonderful Amari is. Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor offers so much to the post-Potter world, almost like refitting and correcting all the issues our generation saw with the original and breathing new fire and life into a magical world where a girl protagonist has to confront a sudden new magical world and notoriety after secret unique and potentially a terrible powers are revealed.
Now Amari & The Night Brothers isn’t Nevermoor, it’s something else to fall in love with alongside and particularly offers something far deeper rooted in the ‘magical beside the mundane’ that Potter offered as Amari finds a supernatural word hiding and equally coexisting with the regular mundane world.
And understand that Amari and the Night Brothers certainly has its new and unique points too.
The magical representation and imagery is *chefs kiss*. I could lose myself in the way BB Alston depicts Amari’s illusion magic, seriously it’s stunning. It’s definitely a fresh and wilder, more intuitive way of presenting magic than the wands and pig-Latin of the expected and one I LOVE to see.
The applying of a Men in Black tone to the supernatural world is GENIUS. From a ‘you got it wrong maaan’ Bigfoot to reformed Boogeypersons, Alston spreads the net further to bring in so much real world supernatural references and more creativity such as the real world forms of fortune telling evolving into a heart achingly beautiful flying carpet session that you are just delighted with every turn of the page awakening Amari’s New World in your imagination.
Another beautiful point about this novel is in how BB Alston has created a black girl heroine, and whilst admittedly reference is made to social injustice and deprivation in her life, this is not the plot, this is not an ‘issue’ book this is an adventure book.
Amari’s story goes further than simply giving black protagonists adventures just like white characters do. This is not race-bending a protagonist, BB Alston has created a tangible black girl from a background that many young black readers can resonate with whether in American projects or British council estates, one who feels written off for their circumstances and blackness but has heart and gumption and hope for magic and adventure.
In the copy I have, BB writes about how he wrestled with the decision to make Amari the black girl in his head knowing it would be a hard sell to publishing houses, how he tried writing it with a wise-cracking white protagonist but Amari was having none of it. Thank goodness he took that leap of faith because I can’t imagine anyone but Amari being the character Alston creates, her ethnicity, her background, everything she is MAKES Amari and the Night Brothers the book it is and the story that winds into your heart.
But equally readers of any cultural heritage can fall in love with Amari, can resonate and share qualities with her, can fight and feel for her and will cast her as a beloved heroine in our hearts.
For Amari speaks for so many, the outsiders, the ‘merit’ over legacy where you feel tokenised, those who are different from the main in one way or another can have magic inside and are worthy of adventures too.
And difference, prejudice and discrimination are central throughout the plot, how we mislabel people based on our own fears and preconceptions, how those with power and privilege circle the wagons to protect it from those who do not, and simple plain nastiness to anything that is different from our own circumstances or choices.
Bullying and segregation in her mundane life through wealth, status and race as Amari comes from the wrong side of the tracks (quite literally) is mirrored in her supernatural life as she is castigated for having ‘too much’ magic and in many minds posing a Voldemort level threat.
The utter unfairness of being labelled for what we cannot control is returned to again and again throughout the narrative making it clear to both children who can resonate with Amari for their own differences and social exclusion and to those who have been privileged not to have been set apart from their peers.
One can feel the hurt and frustration throughout Amari’s reactions but where her ultimate power could be taken, Alston holds us back and to account, showing us constantly how revenge can fleetingly feel good or righteous but is never the answer.
Instead he tells us like Agent Fiona tells Amari that she already has everything she needs like a wildfire in your belly and to turn those comments and doubts into kerosene to fuel what you want to achieve or be.
With both an enthralling and detailed supernatural world immersion, an exciting and beautiful magic and life lessons along the way, this is a series I can hitch my star to and let myself be taken away in its glorious wake.
Please check out the fellow posts on this Ultimate Tour, this book is truly stunning and I hope it is taken into hearts, minds and homes, and very excited to be ahead of the curve on what deserves to be an amazing film franchise with Marsai Martin as Amari!!
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B Alston is published in the UK by Egmont & TWR in the US.