Cover Image: Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans

Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans by Isi Hendrix is a middle grade fantasy with roots in Nigerian folklore.
Readers do not need to relate to an African experience to relate to Adia's character. The publisher promotion for this story says it is for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers and the School for Good and Evil. Yes, I can see how children who enjoyed those stories will also enjoy this one. BUT this story is not similar to either story. It stands on its own. I have no qualms about recommending this tale to anyone looking for an adventure featuring a "fish-out-of-water" 12-year-old discovering her magical talents.

12-year-old Adia is an orphaned girl being raised by her mother's stepsister. Her stepfamily blames her for the misfortune that comes to their family. They call her an "obanje" or a demon in a child's body because she never forgets anything she reads.
Her stepparents want her to stay and work at their farm and do not want her to leave to learn a trade as most children do at her age. Adia wants to leave the Shadowlands where she lives and go to work at a school for Shamans under the tutelage of their head chef. Of course, Adia finds a way!

Thank you Netgalley for allowing me to read this creative and excellent story.

Was this review helpful?

I was drawn to this book because of the cover and for being an Academy/Magic with African Myth/Lore. I'm pleased that it seems to explore more than just the main character's personality. It seems to be fast-paced sometimes. So far it's a book that catches our attention from the first chapters, but the caricature of evil characters slowed me down.
I prefer a book that promotes unity and inclusiveness and does not promote discord with generalizations of characters associating cartoonish evil personalities to specific physical traits, but I get the point to give us the unsettling and cruelty of colonialism.) I prefer to focus on the magic of the story and the potential of the characters. I want to fall in love with their strength and not be put off by the violence of the bullying or references. It was a slow read but it became better. I recommend it to those who love magical academy and want to start a new series.

Was this review helpful?

Adia Kelbara takes the trope of kids going to "wizard" academies and deconstructs it. The shaman academy, in this instance, is only for students who can afford to attend, which means that many of the kids and shamans aren't "real," or possess the actual magic of shaman's. This reminds me so much of private school education. As an educator, it's such an important subject to discuss the more we look into how race and class converge and shape education. There are so many reasons to love this book apart from its societal criticisms. The writing is HILARIOUS and the world is rich.

Was this review helpful?

An interesting story about a young Black girl who leaves her home village, where she is ostracized, only to discover she is a shaman of atypical skill. It's an entertaining story, a compelling world, and Adia is herself appealing. There's some pretty high level stuff about social climbing, status, and living espoused values which I thought was done exceptionally well for a kid's book. K-12 librarians should prepare for possible objections related to accusations of anti-Christianity, anti-whiteness, and lack of "balance" due to an ongoing plot associated with the culture-destroying religious colonialism of white people from a neighboring nation. This plot is at times uncomfortable, but only because elements of it are so painfully recognizable, particularly the expertly depicted banning of traditional religion for native practitioners while those same practices are simultaneously packaged, commodified, and sold outsiders seeking to validated.

Was this review helpful?

This world was so rich and fascinating to experience! I love the way the author brought in some very real-world complexities, in particular relating to colonization and the use of religion by colonial powers to erase indigenous cultures. These are such profound and complicated issues but she wove them into this fantasy story in a way that felt authentic and fresh. There's plenty of action and world-building not to mention unique characters in this entire journey! This new series has elements of rags to riches, magic school, found family, a grand homeric journey and a good versus evil grand finale full of layers of belonging and value.

Was this review helpful?

Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans was another addition to why I'm jealous of the kids who get to enjoy Middle Grades lit. This book explores self-confidence and identity, indigenous ways of knowing and being, and the perils of commodification of niche practices by popular culture. This was such a necessary. read when I was younger and still one for me as an adult. Thank you netgalley and Harper Collins for allowing me to read an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, everybody needs to get their hands on this book.

Was this review helpful?

Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans
Rating: 4/5

I was pulled in by the cover for this #middlegrade book. Besides the great art, I initially thought the girl on the far right could be wearing hijab but alert— it’s not a hijab lol. The book is entirely second-world fantasy, with the only mentions of religion being a fictional ‘Bright Father’, folk/shamanism, and the many astral deities. I do want to note that there seems to be a pseudo-parallel between the “Bright Father” and missionary Christianity (as the author talks about it in the disclaimer). I hope readers who adhere to that faith and who might feel uncomfortable reading remember that this is the perspective of the people getting preached to and colonized.

Adia Kelbara lives with the label that she is an ogbanje, a demon-possessed child, and it’s really heartbreaking to see her fully believe it. She hopes the Academy of Shamans will help her with the powers she possesses but it is in for a surprise when the school is not only filled with frauds but the school itself is alive and about to be visited by the emperor who really is possessed! The world-building is impeccable. While it took me a bit to finish reading, I always knew where I left off because of how well everything was described. I don’t know if that might be a double-edged sword for some readers, but I say it’s more of a positive than all else. It truly sets up the upcoming trilogy. I loved that Adia is headstrong and is honest to herself about her motivations and the book has several comedic moments. And while Adia partners with many to tackle the demon emperor, the friendship between her and Nami was really well done; Adia the “outcast” and Nami the one who idealizes the current status quo. A good way to portray privilege, hardship, and friendship. The structure of this book is also really unique. I don’t think it’s the generic 3-act and I welcome that! We need more story structures!!! and it read perfectly for Adia’s journey here.

Not a five-star rating because there were times I thought some interactions seemed too modern or wanting to make a direct statement to the reader and not for the story? If that makes sense. I also think this should be an upper-middle-grade story. Adia is only 12 here but some of the themes here might work better if she were like, 14 y/o. Younger readers pick up books with older MCs so I don’t think it would detract from anything if she were aged up.

TL;DR: Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans is a strong start by debut author Isi Hendrix. The extensive world-building in this Afrofantasy sets up the stage for a trilogy and the structure of this novel lets you adventure with Adia to various places and quests with the backdrop of (anti)colonization, not letting others label you, and accepting yourself.

Was this review helpful?

Adia (who is orphaned) lives in the Zarain Empire with her evil aunt and uncle, who have convinced her that she is an ogbanje. She was in ill health when she was young, and some bad things have happened to her family, like a cousin going missing, that her family pins on the fact that she might be possessed by a demon. When it comes time for her practicality (an apprenticeship), she manages to get assigned to one at the Academy of Shamans, where she will work in the kitchens and get away from herr provincial village. Sadly, things are not much better at the academy. While she has a supportive mentor in Maka Esiniri, and the former "kitchen runt" Lebechi helps her out, she learns the awful truth that the wealthy students who attend the academy really don't have any shamanic power. Some, like Mallorie, are completely awful to the staff, including Adia. Not only that, but she overhears Alusi (gods) in the school library. They are talking about the fact that the young emperor of Zaria, Darian, has been possessed by the spirit of Olark, an ancient demon. There is a curse in place that makes anyone who is told about Olark not believe that Darian is in danger; Adia believes it only because she has overheard the information. When Malorie gets her kicked out of school, she ends up at the harbor, where she follows one of the Alusi, Gini, to a ferry taking her to Horrorbeyond. Adia makes a pact with her that Adia will get paid if she can save the kingdom from Olark by finding a blood soaked stone that holds his power. The Horrorbeyond is full of spirits that will suck ones energy out, and Adia manages to escape, although when one of the Gold Hats from the Academy, Nami, shows up, he almost succumbs. A fierce warrior girl from the Queendom of Nri, Thyme, saves the two. Thyme has been captive in Horrorbeyond for five hundred years, and Nri has long ago fallen to dust. Thyme had the stone, and with Gini's help the group are able to get past Hidoma, the Headless Girl and back to the academy. Darian is visiting, and Adia has to find out why. Will she be able to save the boy he is possessing, and perhaps uncover the secret behind the injustice of the shamanic academy filled with false shamans?
Strengths: There is a lot of good world building in this, and it echoes some of the colonialistic treatment of African countries. I found the Drops that the missionaries gave people to render them more peaceful particularly unnerving. The ties with Nigerian folk lore and mentions of ogbanje and Ikenga are interesting, and I definitely need to find a book covering more of this information. Adia's quest starts out a little differently, and she has a different motivation than a lot of fantasy characters. It's not that she is a reluctant chosen one; she just happens to overhear something and investigates it, even though she doesn't believe that she has any powers. She just doesn't have anything to lose. Her relationship with Gini and Thyme is interesting, and even Nami has surprising depth.
Weaknesses: This is the first book in a trilogy. While I could convince a reluctant reader to get through this 352 page book, it's only the seasoned fantasy readers who are going to want to pick up two more, no matter how good it is. I'd love to see SOME fantasy books that aren't in series. I also wish that Mallorie had been more nuanced. Characters that are just completely evil don't pack the dramatic punch that a character like nami has. They're like the villains in Scooby-Doo; harder to take seriously.
What I really think: I've read hundreds of fantasy books this year, but buy only a handful because I just don't have the readers for them. I do with this were a stand alone, but will actually purchase this one for readers who liked Dumas' Wildseed Witch and Okogwu's Oneyka and the Academy of the Sun.

Was this review helpful?

Upper middle grade readers will devour this thrilling story that blends fantasy, African mythology, and girl power into a fascinating tale of a young girl who finds her power and saves a nation. Isi Hendrix has started what I hope will be a series featuring Adia and her people. So well done.

Was this review helpful?

This is a brilliantly written Afrofantasy about a 12-year-old orphan named Adia who is believed to be possessed with a demon. When strange and scary things happen around her, because of her, she longs to escape and is able to secure an apprecticeship in the kitchen of the Academy of Shamans, far away from her village. The world building and character development in this novel are breathtaking, and it's a fast-paced and delightful ride for the reader as Adia discovers the truth about what's really going on in her kingdom. She realizes that the fate of the world depends on her and her success as she teams up with a goddess who is extremely cranky and scatterbrained, along with an aggravating kid who is training for the military and will betray anyone who keeps him from his goals, and a tough warrior girl who happens to be 500 years old. Five stars for this wonderful novel that includes important themes of self-discovery, bravery, and friendship, along with well-placed humor.

Was this review helpful?

This middle grade book was so adorable. I got sucked into the magical world and just adored Adia. The concept of her growing up with her aunt and uncle and always feeling less than/like she was bad is so sad. I loved that she was able to finally understand her true value.

Thank you so much for the chance to read this book!

Was this review helpful?

I was immediately drawn to Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans because of the cover; the current trend of fantastical middle grade is phenomenal and draws the eye. I really enjoyed how much this book calls out colonialist ideas and the ways white people have tried to eradicate then take over local/indigenous ideas and practices. There’s a line about how when the indigenous people practice their arts (in this case, shamanism), it’s vilified, but when the colonizers decide they’re entitled to it, it becomes en vogue. I also really enjoyed Adia's journey and recognizing the messages she’s been led to believe that she’s evil are rooted in the colonizers’ voices and in actuality she is a powerful force. I had a lot of fun with this and I’m excited to see what’s in store for Adia, [redacted], and Thyme in the future.

Was this review helpful?

Loved this one, and read it in 2 nights! African mythology and magic woven together to create a world I want to visit!

Was this review helpful?

Thank you so much to Net Galley and Harper Collins for the ARC of this novel!

I have been so into middle grade this year, and the aspect of Afro-fantasy.

My favorite aspect of this novel is that there are children who are learning so much about themselves and their culture. As well as embracing the powers that they have received in the world that they are in. Because of that I LOVED the character development.

This novel is something that is very different. The world building was very interesting in that at first it was hard for me to visualize things but it came easier. And the mystery unfolded was also a favorite of mine!

Was this review helpful?

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the ARC Netgalley and Harper Collins!

This is a debut middle grade fantasy novel. It is a Afrofantasy about a young girl who has it tough living with her aunt and uncle who think she is an ogbanje, a demon possessed child that brings misfortune. When children reach a certain age they are offered an apprenticeship to learn a trade and Adia is offered one far from her village to apprentice in the kitchens of the Shamanic Academy. The school is not what she was expecting and she comes to learn that the Emperor is possessed by a demon who is coming to the very school for a visit. Adia teams up with a sassy goddess, an out of time warrior girl, and an in training soldier to exorcise the demon before he can destroy the kingdom.

So right off the bat I really enjoyed this book. The world building and characters draw you in wanting to get to know this world. The world that the author created is so rich and full of life it is a treat to read a world that is not based in European lore. The magic system is different from other fantasy books but it is not explored as much in this book hopefully in the sequels it will be. I do give this a 4 out of 5 stars. The reason being the pacing was a little off to me. Some places it was fast and just pulled you along then in others it would be slow maybe a little drawn out. There is a nice twist near the end that I did not see coming that was a nice surprise.

I highly recommend this book to anyone fans of TJ Young and the Orishas by Antione Bandele. I very much look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Was this review helpful?

NetGalley ARC Educator 550974

A wonderful take of coming into one's power, family, friendship and helping to save the world. With the help of God's and unlikely heroes, Adia hopes to free herself from a curse and help save the world as she knows it. I hope to read more of Adia's tale.

Trigger warnings: Death of a child and betrayal

Was this review helpful?

A truly special middle-grade fantasy full of black girl magic, wit, and heart. I truly enjoyed every second of it and look forward to the rest of the series.

Was this review helpful?

This book was amazing! This is the first book in a while that I sat and finished in a day. I loved everything about it. It’s kept my attention from the beginning and was beautifully written. The world building, the twists and turns were all great. I would love to see this as a tv series.

Was this review helpful?

Rating : 4.5 out of 5
Blurbs :
The first book in a fast-paced, witty, and big-hearted debut Afrofantasy trilogy about a twelve-year-old apprenticing in the kitchens at the prestigious Academy of Shamans, who must ally with a snarky goddess and a knife-wielding warrior to save her kingdom. Perfect for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers and The School for Good and Evil.

Life is tough for twelve-year-old orphan Adia. Her aunt and uncle believe she's an ogbanje, a demon-possessed child that brings misfortune wherever they go, and Adia can't disagree--especially when she suddenly manifests mysterious powers that she can't control, causing an earthquake in her village.

So when Adia is offered a kitchen apprenticeship at the faraway Academy of Shamans, she flees with nothing but a pouch of change, her cat Bubbles, and the hope that someone there can figure out what's wrong with her--and fix it. But just as she's settling in, Adia stumbles upon a shocking secret: Unlike her, the kingdom's emperor really is possessed--by a demon more wicked than any other. And he's on his way to the Academy for a visit.

Joining forces with a snarky goddess, a 500-year-old warrior girl, and an annoying soldier-in-training, Adia must travel through hidden realms to exorcise the emperor and save her kingdom. But to succeed, she first must come to understand the powers inside her....

The fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Thoughts :
This is a debut middle grade fantasy as book 1 in a trilogy. I really really enjoy my experience reading this book. All the characters, magic systems, world-building, and even the plot are very very interesting and different with other fantasy books out there. I'm happily give this book a 4 stars rating. The pacing is a bit on and off for me, it's pretty fast paced. Sometimes it's better when it's slow because you can understand more and enjoy the whole plot even better. I like all the twists that happen throughout the book. It's just wholesome.

I like this book and yes, I will continue reading this series. It's amazing and I highly recommend this book for any fantasy lovers out there!
Thanks Netgalley for the early copy!

Was this review helpful?

Adia Kelbara does not fit in with her family, or with her society. She doesn’t like the missionaries who force you to take “drops” (an opiad like drug), to make you docile and obedient. She doesn’t go to church, and she certainly doesn’t take the drops.

She would rather read, or spend time outside, even if it is digging for the Agrias plant that the drops are made from. But it all comes to a head when the missionaries try to force her to take the drops, and she causes an earthquake with magic that she can’t control, and runs away.

Adia hopes that by going to the magic academy, if only to work as a cook, that she can learn to control this magic that is growing inside her. But instead, she finds a school of spoiled brats, who have no magic. It is a school for the rich.

And that is just the setup. There are also gods who walk the earth, demons who posses people, and a mystery of why all the good students disappear after the first week at school.

The world-building here was amazing. Some of it was based on Nigerian folk culture, but others were invented. Either way, it is a rich world we are plunked down in, and it looks as though this might be the frist of many books in the series.

Adia gets down on herself, as a 12 year old who has been abused and unloved her whole life will. But there is wisdom that is repeated often, both from the goddess as well as others, that good and evil don’t exist just ignorance verses wisdom.

As is pointed out about the plant that makes drops. “Agrias itself is not bad. It is just used in a bad way.”

This book grabs you and pulls you into this world, and you go along for the ride, wondering what will happen next, wanting the book to both end, and to not end, because then it will all be over.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honst reivew. It is coming out from Harper Collins the 19th of September 2023.

Was this review helpful?