Balancing secret organisations, wondrous magical creatures, and the compelling tale of a young black girl rising up and overcoming prejudices is no small task. Fortunately for children all over the world, middle-grade debut author B. B. Alston has done just that in magnificent fashion.
From very early on it is hard to ignore the vague similarities between certain aspects of Amari and the Night Brothers and other popular works of children’s literature. The Crystal Ball ceremony takes certain cues from the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, the inclusion of a rich tapestry of preexisting mythology is a leaf taken straight out of the Rick Riordan Presents playbook, and magical creatures being hidden from mortal eyesight until special equipment is acquired is something previously seen in The Spiderwick Chronicles. Thankfully, Alston has steered well clear of any Hobgoblin spit. What separates Amari Peters from all of the heroes and heroines in those other books, however, is that she is grounded squarely in a reality which so many children all across the world can relate to. And that is what makes her so compelling.
Hailing from the low-income housing projects in Rosewood, Amari has forever lived in the shadow of her older brother Quinton, whom she idolised. Not only was he a kind brother and a loving son, but he was also a crucial figure in the local community and a rock to many other disadvantaged children. When he mysteriously disappeared several years ago he left a void which has never been filled, and while the authorities begun to assume the worst, Amari never gave up hope.
That enduring hope is suddenly vindicated when a briefcase arrives on her doorstep containing a recorded invitation from Quinton to follow in his footsteps as a member of the Supernatural Bureau of Investigations, a secret organisation which protects the world from the unseen and mysterious, the wicked and the foul, and the eponymous Night Brothers who have used their evil magic to terrorise the world for centuries.
What follows is a rip-roaring adventure as the reader witnesses Amari blossom from a troubled child whose scholarship is in jeopardy into a confident, powerful trainee in the Bureau. The same troubles follow her from the mortal world into the supernatural one, stemming mostly from small-minded cliques who hate Amari for just being herself, but with her new weredragon best friend Elsie and Agents Magnus and Fiona fighting in her corner, the bullies and Van Helsings (yes, those Van Helsings) don’t stand a chance.
From start to finish, Amari and the Night Brothers is a touching story which will melt the hearts of both adults and children alike. The plight of Amari’s single-parent mother, who has lost a son and is working herself to the bone in order to care for her daughter, is one which would populate the nightmares of any parent.
In contrast, a whole new world of excitement, danger, and the unimaginable suddenly being presented to Amari as an alternative to her downward-spiralling reality is a prospect which would enthral any child. Taking this idea and running with it, the further into the novel you dive the crazier things get, and Alston masterfully crafts an unpredictable story of family and friendship, love and loyalty, and most importantly for the reader, danger and delight.
In May 2019 it was announced that Marsai Martin, of Black-ish fame, would star in a movie adaptation of the novel, and also act as a producer alongside Don Cheadle. With any luck this will be the first in a long-running franchise, as if the first entry in the Supernatural Investigations series is any indication, Amari Peters is a character who we are going to love for many years to come.
Not only does the first middle-grade fantasy book of 2021 not disappoint, it knocks the socks off its reader and blows away any and all expectations. Amari and the Night Brothers releases on January 19th in the US and January 21st in the UK, and can be preordered now from all good book stores.