Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

Fall 2016 Fiction
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Delia Sherman
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763688059
Hardcover Price: $17.99

Nick Reynaud is not having very good experiences with adult authority figures. In the process of running away from his abusive Uncle Gabe, he finds himself at the doorstep of a crotchety man in a tattered coat and top hat who calls himself the 'Evil Wizard Smallbone' and who wants to make sure that Nick can't read, just in case Nick plans to steal any magic from his Evil Wizard Bookstore. Nick doesn't mind lying about his literacy, and he doesn't mind doing a couple of chores in return for a night's lodging and food, but he does resent Smallbone putting a charm on the property to keep Nick from leaving-and he really doesn't like being turned into a spider or a rock when Smallbone gets angry with him. Nick becomes determined to learn magic from the bookshop so that he can defend himself from Smallbone. He begins to discover, however, that he will need his magic against stronger evils than the cranky wizard. Smallbone Cove, the wizard's protected town, is being threatened by, the loup-garou Fidelou and his pack of coyotes, Smallbone's ancient enemy. In order to help save the town, Nick must not only conquer Fidelou, but also come to terms with his own nature, faults, and fears.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone synthesizes the qualities that make for excellent fantasy. Delia Sherman builds a convincing magical world with consistent and thoughtful rules about how magic can and cannot work. Within this magical world, Nick must wrestle with compelling questions about his personal identity and his mechanisms for coping with trauma, fear, and frustration. The narration is warm, humorous, and sympathetic, and the plot balances nicely between moments of predictable action (the archetypal, mythical, satisfying kind of predictable, not the boring kind) and moments when the characters are allowed to develop fully. The ending is perhaps a bit too tidy to match the rest of the novel, but in all other respects, The Evil Wizard Smallbone is a wonderful new find for young fantasy readers.

Naomi Lesley   ©2016 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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