The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities edited by Rick Riordan

The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities edited by Rick Riordan. Disney Hyperion, 2021. 9781368070836

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Fantasy

What did you like about the book?  Riordan gets into multiverse-mode with this collection of ten (longish) short stories featuring characters from his stable of mythic superheroes. Readers will get to reconnect with Sal and Gabi (Carlos Hernandez), Gum Baby (Kwame Mbalia), and Aru Shah (Roshani Chokshi), among others. This could be a quick reunion for kids who love those stories or a tasting menu for someone new to the Riordan world, who wants to test drive a character before committing to a new series. Some of my favorites in the collection centered on characters from series I hadn’t read yet. I really liked “The Initiation” by Yoon Ha Lee in which Min (a fox spirit/girl) and her brother Jun (a ghost) travel to outer space to start their training as agents in the Thousand World’s Domestic Security Ministry. I also enjoyed “My Night at the Gifted Carnival” by Graci Kim because it focused on a non-gifted character (saram) named Riley, who manages to save the day using only her wits (and maybe she does have a bit of magic after all?). Riordan fans who love the breathless pace, wisecracks, and camaraderie of his extensive and multiple series will find much to enjoy here, including an introduction to a new Irish hero created by Riordan, a super strong eight-year-old named Demne. Demne manages to see quite a bit of action in his tale; we get to follow him as he leaves a trail of blood-soaked corpses behind as he flees from a murderous king. Riordan is the original, and his story is definitely the one that will keep kid readers in a state of anticipation, waiting for the first installment of his promised new Irish mythology series.  

Anything you didn’t like about it? As with any short story collection, some tales work better than others. The Sal and Gabi story never made any sense to me (but then, neither did the original series). Likewise, understanding the J.C. Cervantes’ story required background knowledge of The Storm Runner series, which I haven’t read. In the end, I felt Riordan should have decided if the stories were to tempt newbies or to connect with established fans and committed to that audience throughout the collection (I would have gone with the newbies myself). I also kept waiting for characters to breeze over from one universe to another, which would have been a hoot. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen in this collection, but maybe we can all hope for a future cross pollination, à la Percy Jackson and Jason Grace? I thought Riordan was off to a good start with his Irish child outlaw (who eventually becomes Finn mac Cumaill) although too much of his new masters degree in Celtic literature made its way into the story. No one wants a glossary for a short story!

To whom would you recommend this book?  Riordan fans in upper elementary and middle school will enjoy this collection. Beware: for “short” stories, most of them are pretty long, although I’ve seen his rabid fans breeze through 400 pages in a matter of days, so maybe that’s a nonissue.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and middle school libraries, public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Fiction, near your other Riordan or Riordan-adjacent properties, not in story collections (the kiss of death)

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: December 4, 2021

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