Atheneum. Jun. 2021. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534465787.
G. 4 Up–Twelve-year-old Lark, with light skin and red hair, is an orphaned thief from the Scrag, the slums of Gallant. All she wants is to keep her head down and earn enough money for her stay at Miss Starvenger’s Boarding House. That becomes especially hard to do when she accidentally becomes the Nightingale, the fabled champion of Gallant. Gallant’s poorest citizens are tasked with the dangerous production of Aether, the valuable resource that powers everything. The workers deal with unsafe working conditions and a phenomenon called ghosting, where people with long-term exposure to Aether gradually cease to exist. In short, Gallant is in desperate need of a hero, and though Lark knows heroes don’t live long, she will need to rise to the occasion in order to protect the people she loves and face off against the returned Crimson Knight, the being that led to her predecessor’s demise. This novel features a diverse group of individuals with various skin tones, including a Deaf character. The plot touches on a number of timely issues such as labor relations, advocacy, and being one’s own hero in a way that is enlightening and inspiring. Lark’s journey from thief to reluctant hero to champion is a joy to witness. Readers will applaud her realizations of self-worth and recognizing that she does have what it takes. Departing from the quintessential hero story, Lark is not the solitary protagonist who has to save the day on her own, but learns to depend heavily on her friends and the people around her, which offers a valuable lesson on friendship and community.
VERDICT From its unique magic system to its diverse cast of engaging characters, this adventure is a worthwhile read.

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