Nightingale, by Deva Fagan

If you, or a member of the "target audience" of 9-12 year olds, is in the mood for a fast fun magical adventure of plucky girl and magic sword, with social justice, personal accountability, and friendship thrown in the mix to great effect, look no further than Nightingale, by Deva Fagan (April 20th 2021, Atheneum Books for Young Readers)!

Most poor girls Lark's age work in the aether factories, producing the stuff that fuels the magical technology that keeps their country strong.  But despite managements claims that everything is perfectly safe, it isn't.  Aether dust is deadly, gradually turn those exposed to it into incorporeal ghosts.  Determined to escape that fate, Lark turned to theft instead, and she's become good at relieving people of valuables.  Not good enough, though, to pay off her account with the nasty woman who runs the boarding house where she, and five other vulnerable girls, are trapped.

In the middle of a daring heist at the great museum of the city, Lark catches young Prince Jasper doing aether-work over a famous sword wielded by past Nightingales, protectors of the realm.  In turn, he catches her, and when the sword is reawakened, its magic bonds to her and not to him, as he'd planned.  Now Lark is the new Nightingale, with a magic sword that gives her wonderful powers.

With great powers, though, come great responsibilities.  Can Lark be the hero her country needs? And if yes, is that also the hero that girls like her comrades need?  Caught in a web of greed and deceit, Lark first has to figure out if she's cut out to be a hero or not, and then must to figure out just what sort of Nightingale she will become.

It's great to follow along with Lark as she makes this journey.  For one thing, I'm a sucker for communicative swords with magical powers.  For another, I'm a sucker with books in which the main character realizes the power of friendship, and uses that to help take down the greedy folks in control.  There's a nice dollop of social justice--few mg fantasy books include trade unions and the exploitation of workers.  Jasper's a great supporting character--a lonely, technology minded kid who's able to learn from Lark about all the things that being raised a prince has left him ignorant about. And there are lots of lovely details of the magical technology, past history returning to relevance, and adventures!

But really what I'll most remember fondly is the great sword!

Highly recommended.


  1. I just finished reading Radium Girls, adult non-fiction about the girls who all died horribly of radiation poisoning after working in factories painting luminescent watch dials. So I'm more than ready for a story about dangerous factory work with a happy ending (and a magic sword!)!

  2. I love the cover for this! It sounds like a really fun read, and I do enjoy talking swords! This sounds like a really neat approach to the idea of unions and such, which has me really curious.

    1. yeah, there's not a lot of middle grade fantasy with trade unions!


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