Amari and the Night Brothers
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Amari and the Night Brothers is a 2021 middle-grade fantasy novel by debut author B. B. Alston. The novel is the recipient of the 2021 Barnes and Noble Children’s and YA Book Award. It has also been recognized by the American Library Association as a Notable Children’s Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
Twelve-year-old Amari Peters, a Black girl from the low-income housing projects, struggles to fit in as the only scholarship student at the prestigious Jefferson Academy, where her peers bully her because of her race and her social class. Amari discovers that a supernatural world resides alongside her own when she learns that her missing brother, Quinton, nominated her for a summer career tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Hoping to find clues about her brother’s disappearance, Amari accepts the nomination—but when she is identified as a magician, an illegal designation, she’s as much of an outcast in the supernatural world as she was in her ordinary one. Meanwhile, a powerful magician named Moreau lays siege to the supernatural world with human-monster hybrids in pursuit of a powerful dark object. Moreau may be the only key to finding Quinton, and Amari must stop Moreau’s destruction. The novel explores themes of family, identity, and the fight against prejudice.
This guide references the 2021 Balzer + Bray first paperback edition.
Content Warning: This book contains depictions of racism and racially motivated harassment.
The novel opens on first-person protagonist Amari Peters, a 12-year-old student at Jefferson Academy. Amari, a Black girl from the local housing projects and the only scholarship student at school, is an outcast and endures bullying from her peers. Her older brother, Quinton, a super-genius alumnus of Jefferson Academy, has been missing for several months because of a mysterious job. Amari refuses to believe her brother is dead and struggles to cope with how his disappearance has devastated their mother and tight-knit family of three.
Amari learns that her brother was a renowned Special Agent at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, an institution responsible for maintaining the separation between the human world and the supernatural one. Every creature, from every folk story and tall tale, really exists. Quinton has nominated Amari for a summer career tryout at the Bureau; once Amari accepts the nomination, she will enter the supernatural world and attend a training intensive that will culminate in a series of tryouts for a chosen career path. Determined to find answers to her brother’s disappearance, Amari enters the program.
Amari quickly discovers that her brother was famous at the Bureau. He and his partner, Maria Van Helsing, captured a very dangerous magician named Moreau. Moreau and his partner, Vladimir—known collectively as the Night Brothers—waged war upon the supernatural world in the past and killed innocents in the pursuit of immortality. As a result of their crimes, magicians are regarded as taboo in the supernatural world; it is believed that too much magic corrupts ordinary humans. Quinton and Maria’s capture of Moreau rocketed them to fame, but now both are missing, and all the Bureau’s leads have gone cold.
Amari is an immediate stand-out at the Bureau when she is awarded an extremely rare badge based on her measured aptitude level. However, she is identified as an illegal magician with 100% magic, an unheard-of percentage that provokes hostility and suspicion from the adults around her. Director Van Helsing of the Department of Supernatural Investigations wants to expel Amari from the Bureau immediately, but with the help of Quinton’s old friends Agent Magnus and Agent Fiona, Amari is allowed to stay and prove herself.
Amari trains for a position as a Junior Agent in her brother’s department, the Department of Supernatural Investigations. As she progresses in the training camp, Amari discovers that she has an aptitude for many of the requisite skills, but she struggles to recognize her own potential because she compares herself to Quinton. Many of Amari’s fellow trainees discriminate against her both because she is a magician, and because she doesn’t come from a rich Bureau family like they do. Already struggling to prove herself to adults like Director Van Helsing, Amari feels that life at the Bureau is no different than life at Jefferson Academy.
Among Amari’s classmates are the Van Helsing twins, Dylan and Lara, children of Director Van Helsing and Maria’s younger siblings Lara most often leads the bullying against Amari, as she bears a grudge against Quinton for her sister’s disappearance. However, Amari finds an ally in Dylan, who becomes Amari’s partner during training camp and shares the information he’s gathered on Quinton and Maria’s case. When Dylan reveals that he too is a magician, a secret kept from even his own family, Amari feels an even deeper bond with him. According to Dylan, Maria was a magician too, but like him she kept it a secret. Dylan teaches Amari how to use her magic and helps her embrace the possibility of using magic for good—even though Dylan himself sometimes uses foul rather than fair magic.
The person responsible for Quinton and Maria’s kidnapping is someone calling themselves “Moreau’s apprentice.” This person has been unleashing human-monster hybrids, created by magic, on the supernatural world with promises of greater destruction to come. This fuels the anti-magician sentiment against Amari. Although the Bureau has Moreau in custody, he refuses to talk. Amari volunteers to speak with him, hoping to appeal to him through their shared magician identity. In their conversation, Amari learns that Quinton and Maria were searching for a secret object that Moreau desperately wants: the Black Book, a compendium of the darkest known magic, and the Black Key required to access its pages. The Bureau guards the Book in the Great Vault, but the whereabouts of the Key are unknown. Because the Black Book is so dangerous, the Supernatural Congress forbade the Bureau from bringing Book and Key together. The Key is instead guarded by a Key Holder whose identity is kept secret. Believing Quinton had discovered the name of the Key Holder, Moreau abducted him and Maria. Amari later learns that there was another concern on her brother’s mind at the time of his disappearance: He sought counsel from the Department of Good Fortunes and Bad Omens on whether or not Maria would ever betray the Bureau.
Amari shares Quinton’s suspicions about Maria with Dylan; Dylan is reluctant to hear it but both he and Amari agree to keep open minds. The two continue to bond as they prepare for their tryouts. Amari and Dylan pass all their tryouts at the top of their class thanks to their combined intelligence and courage, but during the final exam, the Bureau’s Great Vault is burglarized. A masked figure steals the Black Book and reveals themselves as Maria Van Helsing. Worse, the “Moreau” held by the Bureau isn’t the real Moreau, but another apprentice magician using illusion magic. Thanks to Maria, the real Moreau now possesses the Black Book.
Amari and Dylan use Quinton’s notes to track down the Key Holder’s residence, where Moreau awaits them. Dylan betrays Amari and reveals that he was Moreau’s apprentice all along; he used magic to create an illusion of Maria in the Vault to divert suspicion. Moreau holds both Quinton and Maria in a trance, extracting their life essence to fuel the spell he intends to cast that will resurrect his fallen Night Brother Vladimir. Moreau tries to persuade Amari to join his cause, but Amari refuses. Moreau attempts to take her magic, but Dylan stops him and takes Moreau’s magic instead. Dylan, now doubly powerful, begs Amari to join him; despite everything, he feels genuine friendship for her and believes their bond is special. Dylan is embittered by all the prejudice magicians face in the supernatural world and wants to punish those who have wronged them. While Amari is compassionate towards the pain Dylan has experienced, she does not believe hurting others is the way to change things. In a final confrontation between the two young magicians, Amari uses a newfound sense of self-confidence to fuel her magic and triumph over Dylan.
Dylan is imprisoned and Maria and Quinton are taken to the Department of Supernatural Healing. While Maria wakes from Moreau’s curse, Quinton remains in a coma. Amari is promoted to Junior Agent and commended by the Supernatural Congress for her bravery. Maria introduces Amari to the International League of Magicians, a covert organization of magicians separate from both the Bureau and Moreau’s allies. Determined that her brother will wake one day, Amari continues forward on her path as Junior Agent and uses her new self-confidence to give others the opportunity to realize their potential too.