Esther is a middle child, in her own mind a pale reflection of siblings who are bright, shining stars. Her mother doesn't show the slightest bit of interest, no matter what Esther does. Still, she's content to go back to school, do her best, hang out with her friends, and let others take care of things.
But her best friends aren't AT school when she gets there. Why didn't they tell her they wouldn't be coming back? Why were they silent all summer? But stuff like that happens. And it's bad luck that her new teacher makes Esther the butt of all kinds of jokes. Mrs. Pollock is rumored to be an ogre—and maybe she IS one. Could be.
Then things go from unfortunate to outright dangerous. The mountains surrounding the school—usually sparkling with glaciers and lakes, alive with Faeries, and sheltering a quaint town with really great bakeries—are now crowded with Shadow Mages, casting a noticeable pall, and clearly—to Esther—signifying something very dark and threatening. As the people she might have depended on to help are either strangely absent or in hiding, it's left to ordinary, middle-child Esther ("just Esther") to act. But she'll have to burst out of the box of mediocrity she's been but in, and do something absolutely extraordinary.
Praise for Jaclyn Moriarty
"Magically uplifting." —The Horn Book, for The Spellbook of Listen Taylor
"… Moriarty [is] a genre-bending author who gracefully weaves metaphysical questions into outwardly ordinary circumstances." —Publishers Weekly, for A Corner of White
★ "[A] highly entertaining and brilliantly plotted fantasy... With its storytelling aplomb, humor, imagination, and many twists and turns, this novel places Moriarty . . . firmly in Diana Wynne Jones territory."—The Horn Book, starred review for The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone
"Jaclyn Moriarty makes me laugh, hysterically—and cry, unexpectedly... Startlingly original fantasy." —E. Lockhart, New York Times bestselling author of We Were Liars
When Esther Mettlestone-Staranise—an unexceptional child from an exceptional family—returns to Katherine Valley Boarding School after summer break, she's distraught to learn that her two best friends have transferred elsewhere. What's more, the normally peaceful mountains surrounding the academy now teem with malevolent Shadow Mages, and sixth grade teacher Mrs. Pollock is a mean-spirited old lady who grades her harshly. Esther's initial strategy is to keep her head down and muddle through, but then illness sidelines the undercover Spellbinder tasked with protecting the campus. None of her teachers or fellow students knows, and Esther has been sworn to secrecy, so "ordinary" Esther resolves to do whatever it takes to protect her peers until reinforcements arrive. Scant worldbuilding aside, Moriarty's standalone book, set in the Kingdoms and Empires universe, largely succeeds thanks to Esther's earnest, enthusiastic narration. The start meanders, hindering drive, but the tale crescendos to an uplifting close that promotes honesty, bravery, and self-confidence. Ages 10–14. Agents: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management, and Tara Wynne, Curtis Brown Australia.