Fans of last year’s Nightshade City will be delighted with this follow-up story. Three years have passed since the Catacombs were rescued from the dictatorial control of Killdeer and the viciously cruel Billycan. Since the white rat has disappeared into the swamps, all should be safe; however, Billycan now leads a group of swamp rats who are eager to help him wreak vengeance on Nightshade City. Juniper and his band of democratic rats thwart Billycan’s plans and bring him back to Nightshade City where he is given a truth serum so the rats can learn the identity of the traitor among them. But the truth serum is actually an antidote for the drugs Billycan was given as a lab rat.  Slowly, in a series of flashbacks, Billycan remembers poignant details about his time in the laboratory.  As evidence of treachery mounts, some old alliances threaten to crack while others form. This touching story about rat society also makes astute observations about the nature of humans, animal experiments, and the power of family and forgiveness. As in the previous title, the characters are complex with even Billycan garnering some empathy. The author has crafted a story that somehow romanticizes rats and leaves readers wanting even more. - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University

Gr 4 7—Three years have passed since the underground city of Nightshade was liberated by intelligent and long-lived rats led by Juniper in Nightshade City (Holiday House, 2010). Now, the White Assassin, Billycan, has returned ready to exact revenge. He rules over a horde of simple-minded, savage swamp rats willing to do his dirty work. Carn, whose family was murdered by Billycan, intends to go undercover and capture him so that Juniper can use truth serum on him to find out the plans for overthrowing Nightshade. Carn meets smart and pretty Oleander; teaming up with her and her group proves both beneficial and dangerous when Billycan is captured and dark secrets emerge. When Billycan's son, Julius, who is being raised by Juniper, is kidnapped, alliances are broken, lies are exposed, and lives are lost. Much of the story alternates between Billycan's emerging memories from the time he spent in an experimental lab and the present-day Trillium rats as they try to uncover the truth regarding Billycan's past. Readers not familiar with the first book may find themselves needing further background information to keep the vast array of characters straight. Fans of Brian Jacques's "Redwall" series (Philomel) will enjoy another fast-paced fantasy with dastardly villains and unsuspecting heroes. As in the first book, Wagner has built up to a crescendo climax with a big cliff-hanger that will keep fans clamoring for more.—Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

The second installment of The Nightshade Chronicles doesn't disappoint.
Nightshade City is populated by intelligent and long-lived rats who escaped from a lab that was conducting experiments on them and then managed to defeat Billycan, an albino rat turned evil and über-violent by a series of injections administered in that same lab. As this volume opens, Juniper and the other citizens of Nightshade discover that Billycan, otherwise known as the White Assassin, is building an army of swamp rats to retake Nightshade City. They also discover something much harder to believe: There is a traitor in their ranks. Someone is in cahoots with Billycan. Who could it possibly be? Juniper and his friends manage to capture Billycan, take him back to Nightshade City and administer a truth serum in hopes of learning the identity of the traitor. But something strange happens when the truth serum is administered. Billycan seems like a different rat. Has he somehow changed, or is it all an act? Many surprises are in store in this volume, surprises that will cause the rats—and readers, too—to reevaluate their perceptions of family, loyalty, justice and culpability. Wagner's worldbuilding carries readers through these heavy themes with ease.... Look forward to more adventures in Nightshade City.(Animal fantasy. 9-12)


“Fans of Redwall and the Warriors series will love this heroic tale of good versus evil in a subterranean society of rats. The world of the Catacombs is so compelling readers will wonder if it really might exist under our city streets. Expect great adventures in Nightshade City.”
–Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series

Gr 4 8—Vincent and Victor Nightshade live in the underground rat city known as the Catacombs, home to unusually long-lived and intelligent rats. Their father, Julius Nightshade, was once a leader of the city, but now the evil High Minister Killdeer and his vicious helper, Billycan, have taken control and terrorize its inhabitants, demanding food as tribute and forcing orphans to serve in their army or kitchens. When Vincent and Victor try to escape Killdeer's clutches, they meet Juniper Belancort, a friend of their father, who now leads the resistance against Killdeer. Along with Juniper's niece, Clover, they are drawn into the struggle to free the rats from Killdeer's reign and bring them to a new home, Nightshade City. The three help develop a plan for the rebel rats and their ally earthworms to tunnel into Killdeer's palace and confront him directly, leading to a variety of underground battles. Wagner has created an atmospheric and action-filled tale, and her balance of strong male and female protagonists is appealing. Fans of Erin Hunter's "Warriors" books (HarperCollins) may enjoy the animal action and touch of romance, and the authentic rat and earthworm abilities add to the strength of the story.
—Beth L. Meister, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, WI

Fans of Suzanne Collins's Underland Chronicles and Brian Jacques’s Redwall series will enjoy this fast-paced adventure set deep in the Catacombs, where a community of intelligent rats lives in peace and harmony. Or at least they did, until two vicious rats, Killdeer and Billycan, led a coup that turned the democratic society into a dictatorship and its citizens into mistreated and oppressed subjects. Underneath all this misery, however, there is hope. A gang of rebels is creating a new city and welcoming refugee rats into its safety. The fate of the new city rests heavily on three orphans, brothers Victor and Vincent and Clover, a young female who has been secretly educated despite Killdeer's strict rule against educating girls. Can they help the rebels overthrow the tyrants, and can they do it before poor Clover is married off to Killdeer? The themes of love, loss and loyalty resonate through the novel, and the moments of darkness and violence are ultimately overpowered by hope and redemption. A good story well-told. (Animal fantasy. 10-14)

Wagner's debut novel is a labyrinthine saga about warring factions of rats living beneath a human city. Residents of the grim Catacombs are ruled by High Minister Killdeer, a lecherous drunkard who took control after staging a bloody coup and assassinating the beloved Trilok. Now, 11 years later, Loyalists led by a rat named Juniper are plotting to overthrow Killdeer and Billycan (his sadistic second-in-command), liberate the oppressed rats, and bring them to live in the newly constructed, idyllic Nightshade City. Aided by earthworms adept at burrowing tunnels, the Loyalists invade the Catacombs and pull off their mission in a mostly peaceful showdown. Though an abundance of details and ruminations can bog down the action, Wagner has a talent for characterization, and she fills her sprawling cast with compelling villains and heroes. The outcome feels inevitable, yet readers encounter ample bravado, humor, and pathos along the way. Billycan's mysterious disappearance, Juniper's adoption of a foundling infant rat, and a finale that intriguingly recreates the prologue leave open the door for further adventures in Nightshade. It's a door many fantasy fans will enter eagerly. Ages 9 up. (Oct.)

Hilary Wagner's page-turning debut novel explores an animal kingdom deep below Trillium City, ruled by Topsiders, or of Redwall will be swept up in the action and hope that there will indeed be more to come.
–Jennifer M. Brown,   Full Review Here!

Likable and courageous rats seem an oxymoron except when describing the heroes and heroine of this anthropomorphic adventure. The Catacombs, known as the Combs, are ruled by the tyrannical Killdeer, his High Minister Billycan, and the Kill Army. In his arrogance, Killdeer has become a drunken, gluttonous king who relies on Billycan to collect the Stipend from the rats who reside in the Combs. However, rats are mysteriously disappearing. The Kill Army Majors assume they are merely attempting an escape and have been killed by Topsides (humans). However, Juniper, hero of the former government, is secretly building an underground city and raising a rebel army. His efforts are boosted when Victor and Vincent Nightshade, sons of the previous well-loved ruler, escape the Combs and join the new city. Tensions mount when Juniper's niece Clover is to be The Chosen One and become Killdeer's wife. The evil Billycan is determined to wipe out the rebels but is surprised at the courage shown by the followers of Julian and the Nightshades. A mysterious surprise at the end hints at additional adventures for the rats of Nightshade City. Simple drawings enhance the character traits of both heroes and villains. —Shirley Nelson

"The smell of a rat, who’d have thought it would be so sweet? “Why rats?” says Hilary Wagner of her debut. “Well, I’ve always loved animals, especially the strange and creepy ones. When doing research for Nightshade City, I discovered how misunderstood rats are. They are quite intelligent, able to come when called by their names and even lick their owners like dogs to show they love them. They can laugh in ultrasound when tickled, and they dream, too.” Of course, there are also dastardly rats, depraved and sadistic rats, like Killdeer and Billycan, who stage a bloody coup to gain control of the Catacombs, once a democratic, thriving rat metropolis. But better rats will have their day, a growing band of revolutionaries sharply drawn with rich histories and adventurous, vivid characters, all in a fully imagined fantasy world with some important dangling threads that promise good things to come."

THE BULLETIN of the Center of Children's Books
Far beneath a bustling human city are the Catacombs, a sprawling kingdom of intelligent, long-lived rats who have suffered under the cruel rule of Killdeer and his henchman, Billycan, for years. A rebellion force has been quietly amassing, consisting of the few political opponents not murdered in the coup that put Killdeer in power and a growing number of citizens who hate oppression more than they value relative safety. The spark to push ideas into action is the appearance in the hidden new city of three young rats, all children of murdered heroes who fought against despotism. Their presence then inspires the rebellion to defeat the bad rats, move the citizens over to the lush new city (pollution and overuse have rendered the Catacombs virtually unlivable), and restore the democracy that most of the populace has never known. Wagner ably strikes a balance between rat and human characteristics, keeping her talking, fighting, reasoning protagonists still quite ratty when it comes to food, mating, and living arrangements. While most of the main characters seem to represent pure good or evil (creating the perfect climactic battle where winner takes all), there is enough nuance to make them dimensional individuals rather than merely pawns (Billycan, for example, is shaped irrevocably by his horrific upbringing as a lab rat, and even the noble orphan of a democratic hero gives in to emotion rather than reason and instigates an unnecessary attack). Fans of the Redwall series will be elated to see such a richly developed animal world, but even fantasy buffs who don’t normally gravitate to non-human protagonists will find these characters memorable and their struggle for freedom compelling. Compact spot-art illustrations, swift and sure linework rich with texture and detail, add atmosphere. AS

THE BOOKANISTAS: Books are the new black!
"First off, it is a book about rats. And Hilary Wagner weaves so much depth and humanity into each and every one of them, they felt like dear friends by the time I turned the last page. The writing is flawless, told in a third person voice that stays true to the feel of the book throughout. No extra words, the perfect amount of description. Lastly, the way Hilary incorporates past events into the plot gives the Nightshade world such a dose of reality, I felt like I was there. This book is superb."–Bethany Wiggins, author of THE HUNTED (Walker)

"I've never read a book about rats before, so I was surprised when I fell in love with the characters of NIGHTSHADE CITY. There was plenty of action and suspense to keep me turning the pages as Juniper's faction rebels against Killdeer's in a battle of good versus evil. The author created a believable, well-defined world of an underground rodent civilization. This MG book should also appeal to the YA and adult crowd. Even though I assumed it takes place in modern times, there's something Victorian and classical about the style. When I was reading it I thought to myself, "If Dickens wrote about rats, he would have written NIGHTSHADE CITY." –Medeia Sharif, Author of BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER. (Flux)