June 21, 2023

REVIEW The Marvellers (Marvellerverse Book 1) by Dhonielle Clayton

The Marvellers (Marvellerverse Book 1) 
by Dhonielle Clayton
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Format:: Audiobook (Borrowed from Library)
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co (BYR)

Kids can be cruel, no matter if you’re at a regular school or a magic school situated in the sky. That’s the hard truth that Ella Durand, the main character in Dhonielle Clayton’s The Marvellers, encounters when she becomes the first Conjuror to attend the exclusive school for Marvellers. As one might expect, she encounters a less than warm welcome and Ella must team up with her newfound friends to uncover secrets and unravel mysteries before it’s too late. 

There are two narrators/point-of-view characters in this book, and that allowed for readers to learn things before the main characters did (which was super fun and added to the ‘unraveling the mystery’ element of the read). I don’t want to say who the other point of view is, because that’s a bit of a spoiler but there’s a BIG surprise twist at the end of the book. I’m excited to see how that plays out in the next installment.  

Acceptance is a strong theme throughout the story. Kids of all backgrounds get a chance to see them at this school. When Ella struggles to find a warm welcome due to being the first Conjuror accepted to the Institute, she finds a group of friends who also come from unique backgrounds and help her to maintain her resilient spirit in the face of adversity. The discrimination and harassment that Ella faces in the book mirrors that many African American people face in the U.S. on a daily basis, allowing the book to also function as a kid friendly social commentary in that regard. 

The worldbuilding in The Marvellers was fantastic. I loved how, despite the majority of the worldbuilding being new and unique, there was some inspiration drawn from real-life mythology (such as the inclusion of references to Anansi, an African god of stories). I also wanted to note how some Easter eggs I spotted while reading (I’m not sure if they were intentional or coincidental); for example, some of the names for the professors at the Arcanum seemed inspired by the names of authors in real life. For instance, there is a professor named Kwame Mbalia (possibly inspired by the author of the Tristan Strong series). 

Overall, this was a fantastic story and a fantastic middle-grade debut from Dhonielle Clayton. The narrator, Patryce Williams, did a great job bringing the story to life. As Rick Riordan said in his blurb, “I want to live in this world!” You can forget all the invitations to other magical schools and training programs because the Arcanum is the cream of the crop. Given that this story is listed as a series, I’m eager to learn what happens next for Ella and her friends in the next book, The Memory Thieves (currently due to be out in September 2023). 

About the Book
Author Dhonielle Clayton makes her middle-grade debut with a fantasy adventure set in a global magic school in the sky.

Eleven-year-old Ella Durand is the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, where Marvellers from all around the world come together to practice their cultural arts like brewing Indian spice elixirs, practicing Caribbean steel drum hypnosis, and bartering with fussy Irish faeries. Ella knows some people mistrust her Conjuror magic, often deemed "bad and unnatural," but she's eager to make a good impression—and, hopefully, some friends.

But Ella discovers that being the first isn't easy, and not all of the Marvellers are welcoming. Still, she connects with fellow misfits Brigit, a girl who hates magic, and Jason, who is never found without a magical creature or two. Just as Ella begins to find her way at the A.T.I., a notorious criminal escapes from prison, supposedly with Conjurors’ help. Worse, her favorite teacher Masterji Thakur never returns from a research trip, and only Ella seems concerned about his disappearance.

As tensions grow in the Marvellian world, Ella finds herself the target of vicious rumors and growing suspicions. With the help of her new friends, Ella must find a way to clear her family's name and track down her beloved mentor Masterji Thakur . . . before she loses her place at the A.T.I. forever.

About Dhonielle Clayton:

Dhonielle Clayton is the New York Times best-selling author of the Belles series, The Mirror: Shattered Midnight, and the coauthor of Blackout and the Tiny Pretty Things duology, now a Netflix original series. She hails from the Washington, DC, suburbs on the Maryland side. She taught secondary school for several years, and is a former elementary and middle school librarian. She is COO of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books, and president of Cake Creative, an IP story kitchen dedicated to diverse representation. She’s an avid traveler, and always on the hunt for magic and mischief. Up next: The Marvellers, her middle grade fantasy debut. You can find her on social media @brownbookworm.

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