The Plot: In Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, Kiki assembled the Irregulars, a group of disgraced former Girl Scouts who all have extraordinary talents and skills. Together, these fourteen year olds discovered the “Shadow City” under the streets of New York City and fought crime.
In The Empress’s Tomb, the continued exploration of the Shadow city leads the Irregulars face to face with the infamous leader of the criminal Fu-Tsang Gang, Lester Liu. Liu, it seems, has a close tie to the Irregulars.
Runaways, genius children, thieving squirrels, criminal masterminds, and issues of trust and friendship (as well as how to fight crime and avoid being sent to boarding school) are all part of the adventure!
The Good: Girl power to the infinity! This group of girls are smart, talented, and work for it. By “work for it,” I mean that Kiki Strike shows that talent or interest or brains is not enough: DeeDee, the chemist, tries different things out, experiments, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Betty’s disguises take time. Ananka, who also narrates, doesn’t just “know” things: she is shown reading and looking things up.
A hint of a romance for one of the girls is introduced in The Empress’s Tomb: it’s light, it’s fun, and, best of all, it’s a non-event for the group. There is no jealousy or triangles; no one views the possible relationship as threatening; no one views it as the ultimate goal. It just is.
As with the previous book, all the girls are around fourteen while the narrator (Ananka) is talking from sometime in the future. This is a terrific, fun middle school read, perfect for the younger young adult readers but with enough depth that readers of any age will enjoy it. By depth, I mean, if you look up the references or history the Irregulars encounter, such as the Bialystoker Synagogue, you’ll find it’s real.
The Kiki Strike books are a combination of mystery and adventure, all super-heightened. Put another way, they are the tween book mashup of James Bond and Jason Bourne, with the same type of coincidences, villains and gadgets. For example, Kiki is actually a lost princess of Pokrovia whose entire family was murdered. Kaspar is a young runaway who lives in Central Park with trained giant squirrels. There may or may not be ghosts. The adventure and the inventions and the mystery and the danger make this a great book for any reader who wants those in a book.
The first two books were released in 2006 and 2007; now, in 2013, the third book is coming out. The bad news is long-time readers had to wait for the third book; the good news is we can introduce new readers to the series who won’t have to wait for the third book!