Book Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston – Listen Up: This Imaginative Middle-Grade Fantasy with Black Girl Magic Should Be the Next Big Series

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston.
Synopsis:

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.

With an evil magican threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Wow, wow, wow. I was immediately pulled in by the intriguing premise for Amari and the Night Brothers: about a girl who discovers a briefcase left by her missing big brother, and its contents leads her on a journey of discovery, a world of magic that has always co-existed with the mundane one. My curiosity was sufficiently piqued; sign me up any day for a contemporary fantasy.

And then, I read it. And good grief, this book is just so incredibly good. I was hopelessly glued to this book. If I had a pocket of free time, you would have found me reading Amari and the Night Brothers. I was blown away by how imaginative and fun this book was – and I genuinely believe that Amari and the Night Brothers should well and truly be the Next Big Thing.

Amari and the Night Brothers follows Amari, a young Black girl who discovers a ticking briefcase left by her missing brother – and learns that her brother was a famous agent working for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs and that there is a magical world hiding before her very eyes. To find her brother, she enters the agent tryouts for the Bureau, and discovers that she possesses magic that is powerful and feared in the supernatural world.

Urban fantasy is one of my favourite genres. I love the idea that the world isn’t as mundane as it appears to be, that there’s magic and mystery and wonder beyond what we can see and understand. In this sense, Amari and the Night Brothers does urban fantasy brilliantly. One of the most compelling elements of this book was how imaginative the hidden supernatural world was; a world that felt so much more exciting and wondrous than the one we live. I loved that Amari and the Night Brothers presented a world where the unexplained and mysterious can be explained by magic and supernatural forces – a hurricane? It was actually a war between merpeople and ocean nymphs – thus inspiring a sense of smallness amidst wondrous vastness that I love in children’s stories.

I loved the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs – that there were different departments that worked together to keep the supernatural world hidden from non-magical humans. Each department had its quirks and its own personality and I liked that subtle reminder that there is a place and sense of belonging for everyone in this world, a place that would bring out your inner strengths and talents. In addition, a fascinating plot point that I really enjoyed was the story’s take on ‘magicians’. Rather than the magic-casters that we know in conventional fantasy stories, magicians are people that align with evil, greed, and power. I won’t delve too deeply into them because I think this part of the story – and how their existence intertwines with Amari’s own story – is best discovered and learned as Amari does, but I enjoyed the take on magicians and how they added a facet of danger and stakes to the story. Moreover, I enjoyed the message that, it doesn’t matter who or what you are, but doing what you feel is right – even if the right thing is difficult – is important.

Amari and the Night Brothers isn’t just an adventure into the story’s supernatural world. It’s also a character-driven story that follows Amari’s path of being a Junior Agent. The story is a blend of magical school and magical competition and it has the greatest elements of both: a place where young people can have a range of talents and powers (and isn’t it so much fun to see all the different magical abilities and their potential?) that they can hone and compete with each other. But that’s not all this story is about; it’s also about a young Black girl who saw the light and hope in her big brother and will do anything to find him again. Amari isn’t perfect either; she may have a short temper, but she’s also a genuinely likeable and determined protagonist that readers will be cheering on from start to finish. Along this journey, Amari’s life and future will intertwine with new friends and enemies, and she will discover that she possesses potential beyond what she ever imagined.

At the heart of this book, Amari and the Night Brothers is how Amari, and in extension, Black kids everywhere, are powerful and wonderful and hold so much potential. The story acknowledges the racism and oppression experienced by Black kids, but it’s also about how Amari is cognizant of the obstacles that she faces for being Black (and for something else that I can’t say – you’ll have to read to find out!) but uses her experiences to challenge perceptions and to ‘prove herself’. Moreover, I felt that this was done in a way that is empowering yet empathetic to Black kids, the kind of story that is understanding but encouraging and validating.

MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Amari and the Night Brothers has the power and magic to take the world by storm. I loved this immensely – I thought it was exciting, imaginative, fun, and so memorable. Filled with so many twists, turns, and so much magic, Amari and the Night Brothers will inspire and ignite the imaginations of young children everywhere – and I can absolutely see this book being ‘The Book’ that welcomes new readers to a world of stories and books.

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A Black girl discovers a hidden supernatural world that is tied to her brother’s disappearance, and decides to try out for ‘Junior Agent’ in the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs in order to find him.

Perfect for: readers who loved Harry Potter and want a contemporary and relevant story; readers who love Black Girl Magic; readers who love supernatural stories and magic schools

Think twice if: you’re not a fan of middle-grade/younger voices.

Genre: middle-grade contemporary urban fantasy/supernatural

Trigger/content warning: mild fantasy violence

Goodreads | Blackwells | Indiebound | Book Depository | Bookshop | My short review on Goodreads

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston – Listen Up: This Imaginative Middle-Grade Fantasy with Black Girl Magic Should Be the Next Big Series

  1. I know publishers always like to be all “it’s the next Harry Potter” but since now I think we can all agree that we NEED a new Harry Potter I can totally see this taking on the mantle. I think this sounds so perfect for the generation coming up. Also for me. I want it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve just added this book to my TBR!! It looks absolutely incredible, I need it right now!! Beautiful review, you’re making me so excited to meet Amari and the Bureau!! ❤️

    Like

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