Review posted May 26, 2012.
Egmont USA, New York, 2011. 345 pages.
This is a fun and clever middle-grade fantasy. We've got that old fantasy stand-by -- a girl with a gift of Natural Magic, the like of which hasn't been seen in hundreds of years -- but she doesn't want to be her uncle the Wizard's apprentice. She wants to be a detective.
So, her uncle needs to find a new apprentice. When they've got the apprentices assembled to try out, something awful happens to her uncle, and Oona has a case to solve.
One thing I love about this book is that it doesn't try to tell how Oona first became a detective, but starts us just after some outrageous action has happened, implying that what we're about to hear is even more dramatic. Here's a paragraph on the third page:
"You've got to be more careful!" That had been her uncle's advice on the subject of her nearly getting her head chopped off. His words had been direct, and his tone uncharacteristically stern. "I will only agree to this detective business of yours if you promise not to go getting yourself into such terrible trouble. I mean it, Oona! Igregious Goodfellow was a scoundrel, a thief, and a homicidal maniac all rolled into one. You're incredibly lucky that it was your hair that got caught in that horrible man's guillotine. You should never have followed him to his secret hideout. The moment you discovered he was the Horton Family Jewelry Store thief, you should have left matters to the police."
The author keeps up the tone of the book throughout, and, yes, the things Oona encounters in the rest of the book are even more dramatic.
Presently, she turned her gaze north, and before her lay all of Dark Street, the last of the thirteen Faerie roads, connecting the World of Man to the fabled Land of Faerie. A broad cobblestone avenue more than thirteen miles long, the street stretched out in a continuous line, a world unto itself, unbroken by cross streets or intersections. The buildings rose up from the edges of the sidewalks like crooked teeth crammed into a mouth too small to fit. They listed and leaned against one another for support, giving the impression that if one of the buildings should ever fall down, then all of the others would quickly follow, toppling one by one like dominoes.
She considered the street for a moment, this ancient world between worlds, with its enormous Glass Gates at one end and the equally vast Iron Gates at the other. And yet of these two gateways, only the Iron Gates ever opened, and then only once a night, upon the stroke of midnight, when the massive doors would swing inward on hinges as big as houses, opening for a single minute upon the sprawling, ambitious city of New York. For the amount of time it took a second hand to travel once around the face of a clock, the Iron Gates remained open to any who should choose to venture across their enchanted threshold. Few ever did. Few ever even noticed.
In a city such as New York, even at midnight, the people were too busy getting from one place to another to observe anything out of the ordinary. And those who did see the street suddenly appear out of nowhere might simply pretend that it was not there at all. They might turn their faces, and when they looked again, the street would be gone, and they would tell themselves that it had been a trick of the light. Nothing more. The children of New York would surely have been more apt to see the street than adults, but of course, at midnight most good little children were tucked safely away into their beds, dreaming of stranger places still.
Shawn Thomas Odyssey keeps the story inventive, fast-paced, and clever. We've got detective novel elements like a locked room and a bumbling police chief and a super villain behind the scenes, but it's set in this magical world and the fate of even the World of Men may be at stake.
I read this book on the airplane flying from New York to Seattle, and it was a nice light-hearted yarn for the flight. It has some amusing elements like a clock that tells bad Knock-Knock jokes. I was inordinately pleased with myself when I figured out the riddle Oona needed to solve in the process of looking for her uncle. A lot of things that seem scary at first, like witches and goblins, end up being quite humorous. And some things you might not be afraid of, like a faerie servant, end up rather scary. This has the puzzles of a detective story, with some Fantasy tropes twisted and thrown in.
I love that the book has the subtitle, An Oona Carte Mystery, because that implies there will be more. This will be a mystery series for kids I can get excited about!