This was kind of a wild guess, and it worked out. And yet...
I can't recall how I wound up with this - a gift, maybe? I didn't like the title, or the cover, and the beginning of the book didn't move me, but I needed something to read that both the boys (3 1/2 years apart) would enjoy me reading to them at bedtime. It hit the spot.
From my perspective, however, the story felt thin. It's hard to not compare two books about a timid, adolescent English boy with magical gifts escaping his unhappy home situation by entering a dangerous and fascinating magical academy. Unfortunately for Jenny Nimmo, Janet Rowling is a terrific writer, and Harry Potter casts a long shadow.
I don't think Nimmo meant to derive from Rowling's books, and there are certainly no wands or explosions, but Charlie is missing one parent, in mysterious circumstances, has unmanageable hair, and quickly makes two friends and one dreadful enemy at the magical academy.
What actually bothered me about the book was that it felt washed out, paler, thinner. It was like being in the shower when the hot water starts to run out. It's not cold, exactly, but you remember how warm it was just before.
None of the conflicts grabbed me viscerally. I felt bad for Charlie, but in a passing way. And when his uncle Paton (the most interesting character in the book) begins to exert himself, it was never heroic, or startling, just kind of a relief, that someone in the story seemed to care.
I think another unfairness in my impression is that I read the book out loud. It's a slightly different experience, and some books fare better than others. Jeanne Birdsall's Penderwick books feature very small events writ large in the characters' consciousness. In Nimmo's first Charlie Bone book, somewhat the opposite seems to have happened. Portentous events slip by, unappreciated.
As a wannabe writer, I pay attention to this, which may be why, as a reader, it makes this much difference to me. The kids certainly liked the story, and are looking forward to the next installment.
My older son just woke up and confirmed that he loved the book, and it wasn't boring for a second. So there.
- Steve Shea
- A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!