Smart, 11-year-old Wren has just tied academic rival Simon at the Science Olympiad Trivia Challenge when a huge, white bird begins the magical apprenticeship of both children to the Ancient and Honorable Guild of the Fiddlers.
The Fiddlers are not violinists; they are, apparently, the sole, remaining workers of magic on Earth, revered in days of yore but now living anonymously. They use stardust to disguise their nearby workplace at a college campus from all but insiders, and snippets of old nursery rhymes are a part of their secret codes. There are creative descriptions of magical places and adventures—some strongly reminiscent of classics of children’s fantasy—but the storytelling has an awkward, sometimes-patronizing quality. Often, change comes too easily for credibility: the children’s parents allow Simon and Wren to spend a month away with strangers; the supposed rivals form a friendship all too quickly; Simon, Wren, and adult Fiddlers are strangely willing to accept odd apprentice Jack into their confidence; Wren’s thespian mother uses Wren’s idea of reworked Mother Goose rhymes for an annual play. Readers must make their ways through almost 100 pages of bits of hocus-pocus, hints of intrigue, and weak characterization to start to feel empathy with Wren and to spy the beginning of a tale that eventually includes the Voldemort-esque villain Boggen.
The appealing premise is hamstrung by lengthy exposition and sluggish characterization. (Fantasy. 8-12)