Round I, Bracket VIII: Cosmoknights vs. Mooncakes

Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer

For this ragtag band of space gays, liberation means beating the patriarchy at its own game.

Pan’s life used to be very small. Work in her dad’s body shop, sneak out with her friend Tara to go dancing, and watch the skies for freighter ships. It didn’t even matter that Tara was a princess… until one day it very much did matter, and Pan had to say goodbye forever. Years later, when a charismatic pair of off-world gladiators show up on her doorstep, she finds that life may not be as small as she thought. On the run and off the galactic grid, Pan discovers the astonishing secrets of her neo-medieval world… and the intoxicating possibility of burning it all down.

Cosmoknights is an action packed journey through the stars. Our diverse cast of characters are on a mission to break rules and fight the patriarchy, and what teenager hasn’t felt compelled to do something similar? 

Hannah Templer does a fantastic job of pulling us into the universe she’s created. In the beginning, we’re introduced to Pan and Tara. They seem to be fairly typical teens, though Tara’s parents seem to be particularly protective. As these two characters move through their world, we see them in fairly innocuous locales, not much different from those on earth. Small details hint at a possible future with battling robots, but it’s not until we see a full shot of Pan and Tara against the night sky that we realize we aren’t on Earth, but a planet called Viridia and Tara isn’t just a favored, protected child, but the princess of this planet. Even for readers that might not automatically reach for sci fi, teens will find themselves drawn in by Tara’s unfortunate plight and Pan’s brief act of heroism that leads to her being considered the downfall of Viridia. 

The story will pull readers along with more delightful characters, Cass, a former princess that saved herself thank you very much, and her wife Bee who battles alongside Cass in the Cosmoknight arena. Readers will cheer along as Pan sneaks off to join these two in their mission to fight the patriarchy and free princesses across the universe. The action and intrigue don’t stop as Pan explores a bustling city to protect Bee and Cass who are being followed by a stalked by a stranger. 

I would recommend this book to any reader looking for LGBTQ+ stories or who enjoy action, scifi, or fairy tales. I also think that any teen who longs to take on the system, fight the man, or smash the patriarchy will find a reason to cheer for our heroes.

Readalikes: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, Saga series by Brian K. Vaughan, Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid, and the Geekerella series by Ashley Poston (for those readers that like realistic fiction with a nod at scifi)

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

Mooncakes takes a slower pace to storytelling. Main character Nova is a deaf witch who lives with her brilliant, witty, and loving Nanas and helps in their bookstore, while practicing and learning about magic. When Nova’s friend Tatyana brings rumors of mysterious happenings in the woods, Nova takes a small adventure to the woods to see what’s going on. While there, she finds a mysterious wolf shifter she recognizes: her childhood friend Tam. Tam, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, is welcomed back into Nova’s life. Teens will identify with the Tam’s cravings for belonging and Nova’s uncertainty about her future in the face of familial expectation. 

At times, Mooncakes is a little heavy on exposition. There’s a lot to know about shape shifters and magic, and that can take some time. The slice-of-life style of the story also lends itself to slower moments, but there is something very appealing about observing the little details in the panels and watching how Nova and Tam work together to solve the mystery of the being in the forest. This a quaint, whimsical story that will appeal to readers that enjoy magical realism and who want to really get lost in a book. This is also a great title to give to any of your readers who enjoy a sweet, blooming friends to something more romance.

Readalikes: Flying Witch by Chihiro Ishizuka, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, and Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand. The lyrical romanticism and magical realism of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books may also be catnip for Mooncakes fans.

Winner: Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer

This was a tough decision for me. First off, I barely even discussed the art in these graphic novels, but WOW they are just stunning to look at. Each book’s style and color palette is perfect for the story they tell, and the detail is incredible. Second, the diversity in both stories is well done. Our characters span a variety of ethnic, cultural, sexual, and gender identities. These identities are important parts of their characters, but rarely are they the source of our character’s trouble. 

Since I do have a to pick a winner, I decided to go with the title that I think has the broadest appeal: Cosmoknights. The cosmoknight battles will attract readers that love action, a mysterious creature on the prowl for Cass and Bee adds an air of intrigue, and Cass and Bee’s relationship plus the hints of something more between Pan and Tara will satisfy those looking for love. I think Hannah Templer does an excellent job of grounding Pan’s story in a place that is familiar before letting us jet across the universe. Pan, Cass, and Bee’s mission to disrupt the establishment will also appeal to a generation of teens that have found themselves taking on similar fights of activism.

Mooncakes is not a slouch by any means. There are teens readers that will enjoy falling into the slow steady rhythm of this story, but I don’t imagine I can hand it to every reader.

Heidi Estrada is the Digital and Maker Services librarian at Indian Trails Public Library District. When she isn’t creating with sticks and string, she likes to laze with her spouse and two cats or get lost in a great book (especially the ones meant for teens).

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