In Sebastian Porta’s middle-grade story, a 13-year-old mermaid with magical abilities is threatened by a powerful, cruel king.
Stella lives with her mermaid grandmother and attends a school of magic with other enchanted beings, including wizards, werewolves, elves, and witches. One fellow student, Trixie, taunts others and mercilessly bullies Stella.
One day, Stella and a friend discover a room in the building where the school’s mythic creatures live, including dragons, phoenixes, unicorns and basilisks—one to be chosen as a student’s guardian animal when they turn 15. When Stella casually gives an unnamed basilisk a name, she learns that she is now connected to the creature, with possible dire consequences: “You will get expelled…if someone finds out that you already have your soul animal,” she’s told, so she tries to keep the serpent secret.
Far from Stella’s school is a school of black magic, as well as the vicious king Mekredawn, who wants to kill Stella. Stella learns that her friend Crippler is determined to kill Mekredawn for killing his grandmother; Crippler is trans, and his grandmother was his only emotional support.
Stella and Trixie eventually become friends, and Trixie tenaciously works to find Stella’s basilisk when it’s mysteriously stolen. Cranking up the drama, whatever physical trauma the basilisk experiences, Stella will feel too. As the plot unfolds, readers are rewarded with a welcome twist.
Porta largely keeps the story flowing well with action-packed and edge-of your-seat scenes. Additionally, they ably capture teenage “mean girl” scenarios full of profanities and cutting insults.
However, some scenes, while entertaining, don’t further the plot, and readers will puzzle over characters’ motivations. Also, the oversized book seems, at first glance, to be a picture book, which may deter some potential readers. The bright, colorful illustrations are appealing; unfortunately, many are located pages away from the corresponding text, which causes confusion.
Although delivering some fun, imaginative scenes, the story would be enhanced by thorough editing and a revised presentation.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.