Friday, October 21, 2011

9. Seven Sorcerers

Written by Caro King
Aladdin, 2011
$15.99, ages 9-12, 352 pages

Ninevah Redstone fights off rabid clouds and death itself as she searches for her little brother Toby, who's been snatched by a bogeyman, in this first book in a magical new series from Britain.

One morning 11-year-old "Nin" wakes to discover Toby is gone, along with any trace that he ever existed, and the same shadowy beast that took Toby and his "memory pearls" (memories of his existence) is now after her.

The beast, Bogeyman Skerridge, has just erased Nin from her parents' memory and is about to stuff her in his bag, when she does what no child has ever done before: she gives Skerridge the slip.

As Nin escapes his grasp and runs out of her house, a thin, roughly dressed boy named Jonas calls out to her to follow him and leads her along a burned house to a gateway to a magical land called the Drift.

Nin soon learns that the Drift, formerly known as Celidon, is a dying realm that was once ruled by seven sorcerers and is being corrupted by an evil immortal named Mr. Strood.

Years ago a plague descended on Celidon, wiping out many of the land's magical creatures, known as the Fabulous. The seven sorcerers, knowing they were next, tried to cheat death, and sacrificed Mr. Strood to try to save themselves.

But their experiment failed, so they changed themselves into other things so they wouldn't die, one an old oak, others stone walls, and the plague continued to spread, killing more creatures and eating away at the land -- magic itself.

Jonas, a human like Nin, thinks Celidon is not all dead, though he doesn't know how to save it. His existence was taken several years ago by another bogeyman, when he spun Jonas's memories out of his loved ones' heads and destroyed all physical trace of him.

However, Jonas managed to escape the snatcher before he could bring Jonas to the the Terrible House of Mr. Strood, where children are taken by bogeymen but never seen again, and now Jonas lives on the run, moving between the Drift and the real world.

Though Jonas warns Nin that Mr. Strood's house is a foreboding place, Nin is determined to go there and look for Toby, and gradually Jonas agrees to help her.

The path to Mr. Strood's house is fraught with peril, as Jonas and Nin are preyed upon by a villainous Dandy Boneman, and are chased by clouds that act like ferocious dogs and airy-bodied tombfolk that try to devour them.

Along the way, Nin molds a magical friend out of mud, a red-eyed Mudman named Jik, who becomes her fierce protector, and finds a star-shaped amulet containing a sorcerer's magic that grants a wish for things she needs.

Yet she also senses invisible eyes watching her, and unknown to either Nin or Jonas, Celidon's champion kid catcher, Skerridge, has caught up to them and is following their every move.

Skerridge is in no hurry to catch the children since they're headed where he needs them to go, yet he has to make sure that nothing bad happens to Nin before he can sack her up. Then, as they near Strood's house, something unexpected happens.

Jonas is swept up into a storm of dogs clouds, Nin leaps in to save him, and the bogeyman does an odd thing: he pulls them to safety. Is he just trying to protect his delivery or could this firebreathing beast be softening?

If he is softening, it isn't enough to stop him from sticking Nin back in his sack and hauling her in.

As Skerridge delivers Nin to Strood, readers begin to see how creepy Strood is:  Nin is offered up to a ferocious dog named Maug, and readers watch "Mr. Strood's Eyes" roam the house's hallways checking things out and guarding his mysterious Distillation Machine.

Though calling a book another Harry Potter seems trite, this first book comes close. King's imagination is never-ending and so wonderfully fresh, I couldn't wait to see what she thought of next. Her characters are richly developed and ever-evolving, and leave readers holding their breath at every turn.

At the least, Seven Sorcerers feels like the start of something magical.

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