Despite her extraordinary magical abilities and sleuthing skills, Oona Crate’s detective agency has failed to take off. Bu a new challenge captures her attention—The Magician’s Tower Contest. Held every five years, no one has completed the array of dangerous tasks (such as racing on flying carpets or defeating a horde of angry apes). As the competition commences, a case emerges. A rare punchbowl—one with unparalleled magical powers—has disappeared from the carnival surrounding the Magician’s Tower. If Oona can find the culprit, she could use the bowl to answer her questions about her mother’s and sister’s tragic deaths so many years ago—was she really at fault?
The Magician’s Tower is an underwhelming sequel to The Wizard of Dark Street. As much as I had my problems with the former, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the latter. The main problem, to me, is that Odyssey didn’t seem to have a set goal in mind for the sequel, so he cobbled together a few random things and threw in some old villains and ridiculous capers. The thing that redeemed The Wizard of Dark Street for me was the mystery; The Magician’s Tower mystery was set aside for some strange contest and its weakness showed in the rushed and contrived way it was explained, investigated, and solved.
That’s not to say I disliked The Magician’s Tower. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t want to stop reading it. But I thought Odyssey was simply rehashing a lot of things that had already been accomplished in the first book, and the villain reveal felt forced. Not to mention Oona seemed slightly less likeable in this book, or maybe I simply got more impatient with her “I know everything and only I can do things the right way and I won’t accept help” attitude.
I liked the eventual connection to the world and plot revealed in The Wizard of Dark Street, but I was hoping that Odyssey would do more with that than what he did. I wish there had been more overall setup to the contest as a whole, rather than a very rushed explanation at the beginning of the book. I wish that the entire book didn’t feel like some magical escapade meant to be funny but failing, with a weak mystery trying to thread its way through the nonsense. Most of all, I wish that The Magician’s Tower felt less like a sequel written because the first book was popular and more like a sequel that actually wants to continue the story and expand on it.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Oh, now, Samuligan, look what you’ve done,” said the Wizard, who had been drenched with tea and dribbled some of his pie down his beard.
True to form, Samuligan reached into his pocket and pulled out an entire mop, which he proceeded to use to clean up the spillage.
“Is that what you are brooding about?” the Wizard asked Oona as Samuligan dabbed at his beard with the mop head. The Wizard swatted it away. “That business with the missing crystal ball?”
“It wasn’t a crystal ball,” Oona said irritably. “It was called the Punchbowl Oracle.”
Oona Crate was born to be the Wizard’s apprentice, but she has another destiny in mind. Despite possessing the rare gift of Natural Magic, Oona wants to be a detective. Eager for a case she is determined to prove that logic is as powerful as wizardry. But when someone attacks her uncle—the Wizard of Dark Street—Oona is forced to delve into the world of magic.
The Wizard of Dark Street has a good mystery and, although it suffers a little from infodumping and occasional melodramatic description, it’s got enough intrigue to it to make me want to pick up the next book. The world is interesting, even if a lot of information about it is tossed out all at once and the flow never quite seems natural, and Oona, though one of those “brooding, occasionally snarky and perceived as an outsider” protagonists, has her positive moments.
One of my problems with mysteries as a whole, which I also saw in this book, is that there is always some sort of clue that it seems the protagonist should simply not be able to guess based on the information given. Perhaps that’s a mistake in the author’s description, but whenever the novel lingers on gears turning in the mind and puzzle pieces clicking into place, I’ve noticed that what the protagonist figures out because of that is always just a little too perfect. There’s always that one little bit of information that is always assumed that the protagonist has no reason to assume—that is, no reason except that the plot requires it. There was one moment in the book where Oona thinks, “Ah-ha, this! Assumption this! Therefore, assume this and yes, it’s correct!” when there was no reason, that I saw, for her to make any assumption of the sort. Or maybe I’m simply bad at solving mysteries and all the clues make perfect sense and there’s no reason why Oona wouldn’t think and assume what she did based on what she knows…but it still seemed off to me.
The other thing that held this novel back, in my opinion, besides the logical leaps and the infodump worldbuilding, was the incredibly melodramatic descriptions whenever Oona faced something that shocked/terrified/upset her. One point at the end of the book is particularly bad. Perhaps a middle-grade audience needs to have it hammered into their minds with a brick that Oona is feeling this particular way for this particular reason, but for an older reader, that sort of thing grates like mad. That’s the problem with reading middle grades as an adult, I suppose—although I’ve read multiple middle grade books that don’t do this, so really, it’s a writing thing, not an audience thing.
However, despite my complaints, I did come away from The Wizard of Dark Street with a positive impression. It’s a pleasant fantasy mystery, and although I wish the mystery could have been delivered better, I admit that I am perhaps spoiled by the Agatha Christie books I’ve been reading. The humor, on the other hand, was great, especially the broken hip running gag. I’d pick up the sequel just for the promise of something similar.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Presently, the well-dressed, chubby New York boy spoke up. “What precisely does the document say?” he inquired.
“And you would be?” asked Mr. Ravensmith.
“Lamont John-Michael Arlington Fitch the Third,” the boy said. He stared at the document on the table. The contract was so long that it had been rolled into a thick scroll, with only the bottom portion showing, where the applicants were to sign their names.
“I’ll tell you what it says,” said Isadora Iree. “It says if you do not sign it, you won’t get the job.”