B.B. Alston’s debut middle grade novel, Amari and the Night Brothers, has been one of my most anticipated books of 2021. It feels like forever that I’ve had it on my to-be-read list. There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book and lots of marketing to get it in front of readers. After having just finished it, I can confirm that it is totally worth the hype. This is the first book in a new series that will have readers, including myself, counting down the weeks, days and minutes until the next book in the series is released.
Amari has a scholarship to a prestigious school, where she is constantly reminded how much she doesn’t fit in. She is picked on constantly because she lives in the wrong part of town and she’s Black. She lives with her mum, and until recently, her brother Quinton. Her brother is currently missing and nobody seems to be doing anything to try and find him. Amari receives a package from her brother, with an invitation to attend an interview at the place where he worked. Thanks to her brother’s nomination, Amari is introduced to a world that she never knew existed. Amari joins the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, an organisation charged with protecting the known world from the world of the unknown. Her eyes are now open to the weirdness of the world and she can see the supernatural creatures around her that are hiding in plain sight. Amari must be awarded a badge and decide which part of the organisation that she would like to belong to. At the badge ceremony, Amari is identified as a magician, something that is illegal in the supernatural world. Amari now finds herself even more of an outcast than she was at her school and she has to try and prove to those around her that she isn’t evil. Amari decides to try out for a position as a Junior Agent for the Department of Supernatural Investigations, following in her brother’s footsteps. Her brother was one of the most famous Junior Agent’s before he disappeared, leaving few clues behind about his disappearance. While facing the three try-outs to become a Junior Agent, Amari makes it her mission to find out more about her brother and his disappearance. Together with her new friends, Amari must use her new skills and the information she gathers to stop the Night Brothers and their apprentice from getting their hands on a weapon that could bring about the end of the world.
Amari and the Night Brothers is an addictive read that is bursting with magic and imagination. I was hooked from the start and constantly marveled by B.B. Alston’s imagination. Reading this gave me the same tingles that I got reading Nevermoor, because the world is so fully realised and it’s full of really clever and funny details. The story is action-packed and you care about the characters, so you keep turning the pages because you need to know what happens. Even when you get to the end of the story it’s still exciting because you know that you’ve only just scratched the surface of this world and what is going on, so there will be (hopefully) many more books to come. Amari is just coming in to her powers and figuring out who she is, so you know that she is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
Amari has grown up in a neighbourhood where she didn’t have much, but she did have her family. Whether it is at Jefferson Academy, where she is picked on because of the colour of her skin and where she lives, or at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, where she is an outcast as a magician, Amari is told that she isn’t good enough.
It’s kind of like how being a Black kid from the projects makes Mr. Jenson feel the need to watch me extra close every time I come in his store. Or how surprised my scholarship interviewers were that I could speak so well. People assume stuff about you based on things you can’t change about yourself.
Amari just does her ‘best to prove them wrong, to be the person they’re not expecting.’ She does this throughout the book, trying to prove that she is worthy to have a place in the Bureau and that she isn’t the evil magician they think she is.
The Bureau is a fascinating place and I really enjoyed learning about the different parts of it and the way that it operates. It seems like one of those places that you would never really know everything about. There are so many different floors and areas and we only see a handful of them in this first book. I particularly enjoyed the Department of the Unexplained, which has a room called the Origin of Both the Chicken and the Egg. Each of the elevators has a different personality too, from ones that sing opera to ones that like to prank kids.
There are lots of quirky details that give this world depth (and make me laugh). There is a gossip magazine called Rumours and Whisperings, in which one of the headlines is ‘Dwarves insulted by Merlin’s insinuation that golden city is merely gold-plated.’ Amari and her friends sneak out to the All-Souls Festival in the story and discover the Sweet Dreams tent, where you can purchase liquids that give you the dreams that you want. They have titles like Richest Person in the World and Sweet, Sweet Revenge.
Amari and the Night Brothers is the perfect book to recommend to anyone who loves Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series or Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series. Anyone who loves stories with magic, superpowers, secret organisations, the supernatural or the unexplained will love Amari and the Night Brothers. I can’t wait to see where B.B. Alston takes us next!