From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up—The chapters in this clever graphic novel follow the terms of a fencing match, from "Engagement" to "Disengagement," with successive stages in between. Most of the illustrations are done in two tones as Aliera Carstairs makes it through her humdrum days in high school, where she doesn't fit in. Color begins to appear when she puts on her fencing mask at Grand Central Station and the fantasy begins. Illustrations complement the text well, with larger pictures reflecting the character's situation and feelings. After meeting her date and admitting to seeing ogres and dragons when wearing her mask, he thinks she is crazy, but a wild adventure ensues. She loses her weapon but it is returned by a fairylike creature who tells her that the foil her mother purchased at a tag sale is the source of her powers, and she is the defender and now part of a world called Helfdon. The ending will leave readers anxiously awaiting the second installment in the series.—Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI
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Aliera may have listened too well to her fencing coach’s advice: “You must always protect your heart.” Besting competitors twice her age in tournaments, and keeping to a strict routine of fencing practice, homework, and role-playing games, Aliera is a loner and likes it that way—until she becomes lab partners with the cutest boy in school. She initially resists his charms but is won over when he asks for a date. Turns out her new ruby-handled foil is the key to his interest in her, and to the yet-unseen magical dimension she must keep in balance. Yolen’s first foray into the graphic format is a success precisely because she incorporates the best weapon in her arsenal—fantasy. In Aliera she has created a strong, conflicted, and relatable girl hero who wields her wariness for protection. Cavallaro’s artwork suits Aliera’s monochrome existence, but bursts to life when she finally sees (in color!) the faerie beasties cheering her on. The explanation and source of Aliera’s status as a protector of worlds will have to wait for further volumes to be revealed. Grades 6-10. --Courtney Jones