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23 February 2004

Half Magic

Just finished Emily Drake's The Magickers and The Curse of Arkady.

DAW Books is billing these as "America's answer to Harry Potter."

Well...maybe. The few reviews I've read by children, who are, of course, the target audience, are mostly good. The few adult reviews I've read are universally bad.

Overall I'm not surprised. While Rowling is perfectly serious about her "Potterverse," there's a nice thread of humor running through all of her novels, whether it's with character names, situations, dog Latin spells, or pokes at Muggle politics and news. There is no subtle humor running through Drake at all, and her efforts to get us to believe that everything we're reading is real (Potter book references are scattered in the Magickers novels) just reinforce that this is a story, and her stereotypical characters (including your usual Native American character who "follows the old ways" and the bonny red-haired Irish lass who of course speaks with a brogue) don't make it any easier.

Not to mention that the books have some American conventions that have just gotten old.

For instance, Drake's adults are in general...well, stupid. There are good adults and bad adults in the Potterverse, but I can't really say any of them are stupid, not even the Dursleys. Drake's adults recruit our budding magic users from clever essay-writers, drop the ball ("Well, guess what, kids, you're potential Magickers!") on them when they get to camp (this after the kids are already suspicious from a really odd bus ride), and then don't even instruct them well enough when they first start magic use so that one of the students is lost in the ether for a week. And of course then it's not the adults who figure out what has happened, despite all their so-called skill, it's our hero, Jason Adrian. One can't imagine Dumbledore, McGonagal, or any of the Hogwarts staff being so thick.

Not to mention that in the second book, the children all believe they are victims of something called The Curse of Arkady. What is it? The author reveals this...in an interview which I read online. Is it mentioned in the book, even at the end? Noooo, we--and they--are supposed to figure it out for ourselves. (There is a surprise in the second book that I didn't expect, but it comes pretty late.)

Jason is a odd duck anyway. His mother died when he was small; a year or so later his father remarried, bringing him Joanna, his stepmother, and his stepsister. Then Jason's dad died and his stepmother married a building contractor, William "the Dozer" McGuire, leaving him in the odd situation of having two stepparents. Aha! you say. This sounds familiar. But no, the "Dozer" is not the evil stepdad, nor is Joanna an evil stepmother, yet the tiresome convention of our hero having to be in conflict with his parents is tossed in anyway. This kid spends two books agonizing if his stepparents even like him (this after they are willing to send him to an expensive soccer camp in the first book, just because he wants to go, and his stepmother fusses over him playing soccer because she's afraid it's too dangerous, and in the second book his stepdad purchases him a top-of-the-line computer although Jason only asks for something simple to do homework and get on the Internet with, plus also agrees Jason should get counseling when the school recommends it for the boy's well-being). It's as if the attitude is tossed in so that Jason will have something "in common" with the book's audience. Jason, hon, these folks do like you. I'm sure they even love you. Get a clue, okay?

Jason--surprise!--turns out to be a special type of Magicker, one whom the adults really need in their fight against the evil faction of their group. (Oh, goody, yet another evil splinter group.) He has a Potter contingent of running buddies, a girl named Bailey and a boy named Trent (who just happen to have a loving relationship with their parents, just like Hermoine and Ron), plus there's the awkward fat boy, the gorgeous girl, and the two Neanderthal types who actually do turn out to be good guys and a politically-correct racial mix of other kids who blend into the woodwork with astonishing ease. And lest one cliche be left out, there's also a cute animal character who appears midway in the first book.

Let's say I'm interested in enough of the plot threads and the characters to pick up the next one–when it comes out in paperback. Not sure if that makes me stubborn or just stupid. I am hoping Drake finally breaks the mold of predictable events and personalities and surprises me.