In this middle-grade debut, an orphan learns that he belongs to a vast magical community.
Cristobal is about to turn 13. He lives in an orphanage attached to a church run by Father John Costa. His life is a lonely one, however, because Cristobal is secretly a wizard. The other orphans believe his room is haunted since he can animate his own drawings and has a giant crow named Tituba for a friend. Just after midnight on his birthday, Cristobal receives a tattered envelope from Father Costa, who explains that hooded figures dropped him off years ago, along with a medallion. In the envelope, a letter informs the young teen he is “not the same as other children” and that he must visit a place that possesses the same markings as his medallion. In the morning, Cristobal goes into the woods and finds a large hunk of granite with a chiseled hole in it. His medallion fits in the hole, and the rock moves to reveal a package and a walking stick. When bullies from the orphanage approach and steal the package, the boy wizard slams the stick on the ground. A surge of power throws them back and empowers Cristobal. This is great timing, for Brabrook, a Blood Hunter from the United Magical and Non-Magical Allegiance, has also found him. Valleriani merges elements from Norse myth (Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life), Harry Potter–style wizardry (wand duels), and American history (the Salem witch trials). He tweaks the chosen-one narrative by giving a birthmark intimating great power to not only Cristobal, but to two other mysterious individuals as well. Positive lessons are built into the story, like when the boy’s mentor, Danvers, says, “Being sad or angry is OK, but allowing these emotions to control your reaction is not the best solution.” Younger audience members may need a dictionary handy for the regular appearances of words like “deliberating” and “impromptu.” While this first installment of a series finishes cohesively, the next promises a wider exploration of both wizardry and Norse myth.
A kinetic middle-grade–fantasy pastiche that skews in tone toward older readers.