VANDEMERE | Kirkus Reviews


A promising historical fantasy series debut that lacks resolution.

A young circus performer struggles to understand his psychic abilities in Tait’s YA supernatural historical novel.

At 17 years old, Vandy Davidson (aka Vandemere Petruska) is the star trick rider in a traveling circus who feels a special bond with his horses; he’s even named after the horse that his great-grandparents brought from Europe when they first came to the United States. His mother, fortune-teller Bonnie Petruska, has “magie”—true psychic powers that she inherited from her Romanian ancestors and has passed on to Vandy (Del Davidson, a renowned horse trainer, abruptly left his wife and son when Vandy was only 12). The story opens with the circus stationed in a small town in dust-bowl Oklahoma in June 1939. Vandy, confident of winning because of his paranormal abilities, tries to grift a few dollars by betting three patrons on a card trick, despite feeling uneasy about one of the men. Unfortunately, that man turns out to be an off-duty cop who threatens to arrest Vandy for illegal gambling. Jimmy Custer, the owner of the circus and a mentor to Vandy, rescues him by making a deal with the police detective. And that’s just the beginning of Vandy’s troubles: Bonnie is seriously ill, and she and her boyfriend, Jake, who Vandy loathes, drink excessively; Vandy has a huge crush on Sylvia, a stunningly sexy, self-centered aerialist who ignores him (except to tease him or be mean); Jimmy’s fed up with him; he’s broke; and he experiences blackouts in which he has nightmarish visions of being pursued by a demon, which he can’t clearly remember after they end. He also suffers from extreme claustrophobia, sparked by a childhood incident. Worst of all, a little girl wanders unaccompanied into his horse’s stall; he returns her to her mother, but when she later goes missing, Vandy is named the prime suspect.

Despite some awkward passages, Tait’s writing pulls the reader into Vandy’s world with striking descriptions that vividly capture the settings, and introduces characters in a few deft strokes, making them lifelike and believable. (“I was a wind-blown tumbleweed caught in the guywires of life. I hadn’t grown much over the last few years, and at five-foot-seven, I looked about as threatening as a jackrabbit”). Vandy is sympathetic and relatable—at times naive, at others world-weary, filled with teen angst, impatient but also kind. The story is told from his point of view, and his voice is honest and self-aware, with a dose of snarky humor. There are several raunchy sexual references, including allegations of incest and abuse, that seem overly graphic for a YA audience. The story moves quickly, switching back and forth between Vandy’s childhood memories and present challenges. There are several competing plot threads in the narrative, and almost none are fully resolved. Vandy learns little about controlling his paranormal abilities, or about the meaning of his nightmarish visions. Although the novel is promising as a series debut, in the end it mostly feels like backstory. One hopes that Vandy’s true mission and quest, and the dangers he’ll have to face to fulfill them, will unfold in the next installment.

A promising historical fantasy series debut that lacks resolution.

Pub Date: today


Page Count: 329

Publisher: manuscript

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023


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