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Stacks of Green Paper In His Red Right Hand

A review of The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, which finds itself in good company among faerie/magic books that Erin actually likes.

Stacks of Green Paper In His Red Right Hand

BOOK REPORT for The Wizard of Dark Street (Oona Crate Book 1) by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

Cover Story: Just Right, But Not For Right Now
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Like Jonathan Strange Taking a Vacay In Hogsmeade
Bonus Factors: Nancy Drew, Talking Animals
Relationship Status: I Need To Update My Online Book-Dating Profile.

Cover Story: Just Right, But Not For Right Now

Back when I was in sixth grade (the age to whom this book is aimed), I would have loved this cover. It's bright and colorful and cartoonish, and it sort of makes me think of snuggling up under a duvet on the couch on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons, carefully separating out my Lucky Charms cereal's marshmallows into their different catagories, eating all the oat cereal, and then eating the marshmallows one by one, according to the ROY G BIV color scale.

And please, someone else tell me they did something equally nerdy so I don't feel so weird.

Anyway, while I would have loved the shit out of this cover as a 12 year old, as a 31 year old I can't really carry it around in public. But it's still totally cool! I like its dark yet whimsical cover!

The Deal:

Oona Crate is a Natural Magician (a person who has the natural ability to do magic, as opposed to a Learned Magician, who must study how to do magic), but she has no interest in continuing her position as the Wizard of Dark Street's apprentice, particularly after a spot of magic accidentally caused the deaths of Oona's mother and baby sister. She'd much rather start her own detective agency instead, following in the footsteps of her deceased father.

And so the Wizard, who also happens to be Oona's uncle, must choose a new apprentice. But when Uncle Alexander is attacked during the Apprentice-Choosing ceremony (something I keep hoping will happen to Donald Trump, but never does), Oona must rise to the occassion and put both her detective skills and her magical talent to work to solve the case.

BFF Charm: Yay!

I really loved Oona! She has spirit and drive, and she isn't too concerned with frivolity. She loathes the insipid Chief Inspector who took over her dad's job and is constantly solving cases before him, so she reminded me a little bit of Veronica Mars mixed with Hermione Granger, with a dash of Plain Kate. To be honest, I'm not sure I can give a heroine a more ringing endorsement than that.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

Oona's only 12, so while she does feel the first flutters of attraction for the handsome and slightly older Adler Lee, she's, you know. Only twelve. Plus, the name "Adler" in a romantic sense produces acognitive dissonance in me, much as it should any Houstonian who has grown up seeing commercials for Jim Adler, the Tough, Smart Lawyer.

Talky Talk: Like Jonathan Strange Taking a Vacay To Hogsmeade

It seems weird to reference other books in a review for this one, but that is the best way I can describe it. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is one of my top five, all-time, favorite books. It single-handedly resurged my interest in modern adult literary fiction. I read it at least twice a year. And one of the things I love about JS&MN is that it presupposes that magic is around us and has always been around us, and that there is quite a bit of work written on the subject, thankyouverymuch. I got the same sort of whimsical-but-frank vibe from this book, though obviously in a slightly less dense format and aimed for 13 year olds. Ergo, Jonathan Strange has taken a vacay in Hogsmeade!

Bonus Factor: Nancy Drew

The world has been needing another girl detective! What I like about Oona is that she probably could use magic to figure things out, but instead she chooses to use her smarts. And even though, yeah, I solved much of the mystery immediately, it was still fun to read Oona figure it out.

Bonus Factor: Talking Animals

Talking animals are one of those devices that could go either way, you know? For every Taggle and Manchee, there's some jerky snake going around spouting off Kipling's white supremacy bullshit. I'm happy to say that Deacon, Oona's pet raven/dictionary, is mostly charming, which goes a long way towards forgiving his presence as an exposition device.

Casting Call:

Elle Fanning as Oona

Elle would have to dye her hair dark, but I think she could handle Oona's inquisitive but conflicted nature.

Relationship Status: I Need To Update My Online Book-Dating Profile.

If I had an online dating profile for books, it would look like this:

•  Name: Erin

•  Age: One year shy of when I'm going to start lying about my age

•  Likes: Cham cans, costume dramas, swooniness, sassy heroines

•  Dislikes: faerie books, sci-fi

That's kind of how I think about myself, but something I do a lot is make a statement like this: "I don't like sci-fi stuff! I hate sci-fi, actually! Except for, like, The X-Files." Then someone usually says, "What about Star Wars? Didn't you, like, stand in line for three days for tickets to The Phantom Menace?" And then I say, "Well, yeah, obviously Star Wars. And Firefly, and the Star Trek movie and Moon and 2000: A Space Odyssey and Ray Bradbury's books and Aliens and T2 and Cronenberg films and Dune and Isaac Asimov and Back to the Future and The Stepford Wives and *batteries not included and Howard the Duck. But that's pretty much it."

Which means, obviously, that I do, in fact, like sci-fi. But I just don't think of myself as a sci-fi liking person! Mostly because I hear the words "The Next Generation" and a sort of bored buzzing sound starts in my ears and I begin having narcoleptic fits.

The same conversation happens with faerie books, which is why I always make Jenny read them. I don't like faerie/magic books. Except for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Howl's Moving Castle, Neil Gaiman's stuff, and Harry Potter. Of course.

And this book, it seems. So maybe I sort of DO like faerie/magic books? Because while I didn't take this book out on a date (it's too young!), I did take it out for ice cream and a day at the pool, and I found myself surprised and delighted with it and now I want to sponsor it in a Big Sister/Little Sister-type situation! Faerie/magic book, how have you crept up to charm me so?

So if you, like me, are similarly inclined to pull a Fred Savage at the thought of magic and faeries, maybe you should pick up this book. It might just charm you into changing your mind about magic books.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a review copy from Egmont Publishing. I received neither moneynor cocktails for this review (damnit!). The Wizard of Dark Street will be available on July 26, 2011.

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.
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