Very little is as it seems at a survival camp for “troubled” teens in this trilogy opener.
Still deeply upset nearly two years after the disappearance of his stage-magician older brother, Clay writes “Magic sucks!” in a notebook after turning in a blank paper on Shakespeare’s Tempest. He’s astounded to find the sentiment painted on a wall at school the next day—with his signature. The resultant fallout lands him on a remote Pacific island, where he encounters peers named Leira (spell it backward) and Mira, a grotesque puppet dubbed “Caliban” and a llama with a sign on its neck reading “Hola. Cómo se llama? Yo me llamo Como C. Llama.” He also discovers not one but two libraries of rare books—one stocked with oddly behaving grimoires. After climbing a live volcano and sliding back down on a board, he discovers (as he had been suspecting for some time) that it’s all been a setup—further developments to come. “Bosch,” a confirmed Lemony Snicket bandwagoneer, repeatedly interrupts with authorial rants, pleas and footnotes. The Shakespearean parallels aren’t particularly integral to the plot, and the twists, Como’s sign apart, are more inscrutable than clever. The book comes complete with multiple appendices and Ford’s illustrations (not seen for review).
Clay is Everykid enough (“almost handsome, in a dried-snot-on-his-sleeve sort of way”) to keep readers hanging around to see what happens to him next. (Fantasy. 12-14)