A 12-year-old’s quest to learn “real magic” leads him to an unusual bookstore in this debut middle-grade series starter.
Thomas Wildus lives in Southern California’s Orange County. He loves practicing kung fu, playing beach volleyball, and competing with his best friend, Enrique, to draw the funniest doodles during social studies. Yet there’s a hole in his life, as he yearns to understand his long-dead father’s last words to him: “No matter what happens, always remember that magic is real.” When Thomas discovers a “curious” antiquarian bookstore, he hesitantly asks the shopkeeper for books on “real magic.” The man loans him an unusual tome, enclosed in a locked box that opens with a “luminous” key, and he warns him to read only one chapter a day, at home, when nobody else is around. As Thomas slowly progresses through the book, he encounters disconcerting strangers in his hometown, who warn him, “We are watching you.” Even the owner of his favorite comic-book shop treats him oddly. Also, his college professor mom arranges for a tutor to teach Thomas “interdimensional physics.” But what really rattles the boy is the fact that a giant thug in a van has begun stalking him. After Thomas finishes the book, he finds himself on an adventure that takes him to China’s Yunnan province and a canyon in Chiapas, Mexico. For the most part, Bergen offers a lively adventure in his debut. That said, the pacing can frustratingly drag at times, as it sequentially unveils each and every chapter of the magic book. Also, Bergen presents the strange book’s text in an archaic English style. All the “-eth” and “-est” verb endings become tiresome and seem to have been employed merely to make the myths—about an ancient land called Elandria—sound old. If, as Thomas notes, the tales about the birth of magic take place in a time before written language, it seems unnecessary to tell them in such a distractingly odd manner.
An often appealing but slow-paced magical journey.