In the spell-powered city of Tarreton, the wealthy have all the magic they desire while the working class can barely afford a simple spell to heat their homes. Twelve-year-old Isaveth is poor, but she’s also brave, loyal, and zealous in the pursuit of justice—which is lucky, because her father has just been wrongfully arrested for murder.
Isaveth is determined to prove her innocence. Quiz, the eccentric eyepatch-wearing street boy who befriends her, swears he can’t resist a good mystery. Together they set out to solve the magical murder of one of Tarreton’s most influential citizens and save Isaveth’s beloved Papa from execution.
But each clue is more perplexing than the next. Was the victim truly killed by Common Magic—the kind of crude, cheap spell that only an unschooled magician would use—or was his death merely arranged to appear that way? And is Quiz truly helping her out of friendship, or does he have hidden motives of his own? Isaveth must figure out who she can trust if she’s to have any hope of proving her Papa’s innocence in time. . .
In anticipation of my review of “A Little Taste of Poison”, the second book in this series, I felt that I should give you good reason for why you need to read the first book in the series. Truly, this series is a delight and one that should be on your TBR list if not already on your bookshelves.
Reason #1: Magic! I mean, Science! I mean, Magic!
Anderson has cleverly developed a world where magic is a routine part of life, and buying and casting spells is an everyday thing to do. I loved the descriptions of Isaveth baking her spell tablets, and how the composition of them was as scientifically determined as the best chocolate chip cookie. Magic isn’t something ethereal in this book; it’s a living, breathing thing but it’s also something that requires some intelligence and logic in order to execute it properly. I also enjoyed that there is both Common and Sage Magic in this world, and can only wish for a side story about a ‘Great British Bake-Off’ style Spell Baking episode set in this world…
Reason #2: Isaveth
Isaveth is a wonderful character – strong, independent, smart, talented and determined. She’s a closet author, who writes fan fiction for her favourite talkie-play characters, and who has inherited enough of her mother’s talent to create amazing spell tablets and paper wrappings to support her father and sisters.
She loves her family, and will do just about anything for them, but she’s not a perfect character – her impulsivity sometimes leads her into trouble, and she can sometimes use her wit for sarcasm rather than humour. That’s probably why I enjoy her so much: she’s realistic, funny and clever, and someone you can’t help but cheer for as you read the book.
Reason #3: The relationships between Isaveth and her sisters
It’s usual in middle grade novels to have siblings who are more cardboard plot devices than actual people. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here. I loved the connections and emotions that flowed between Isaveth and her sisters. They are all grieving the loss of their mother in different ways, depending on their age, and they are all taking on a burden of caring for the family. They are loyal to each other, but they are also realistic young girls and women who sometimes (gasp) fight and irritate the heck out of each other. This is realistic and fun, and something that every reader who has a sibling can relate to as they read this book. We need more authentic sibling relationships such as this in our books.
Reason #4: Quiz
Quiz is a mysterious character for a good portion of the book, but you have to admire his talents in evading capture and getting about town. I appreciated how he genuinely wanted to help Isaveth, and how hard he worked to find out information for her. Their friendship grows quickly, and it’s a pleasure to see them playing detective together as they bring out the best in each other.
He integrates himself into her family quite quickly, and you instinctively trust him, even though you really don’t know much about him. When you find out about his secret, and see how he relates to his own family, you can’t help but feel for him and to understand why Isaveth’s family is so attractive to him.
Reason #5: World building
How do I loved the detailed world building in this novel? More than I can report. I love that Tarreton is a city of complexity, with established class structures and religious affiliations. I love that real-life issues of grief, poverty, religious persecution and class are clearly interwoven into the storylines and that they are present without being pedantic. I love how magic is science, and an acknowledged part of the world they live in, even if not everyone is able to practice magic the same way. There are talkie-plays on the crystal sets that broadcast weekly installments to avid listeners, factories that produce spell-tablets and carriages are propelled by spells. The blending of magic and the everyday is done seamlessly, and I can only wish we had some of Anderson’s magic in our own world.
Reason #6: All is not what it seems
Identity plays a big role in this book. Isaveth pretends to be someone she is not in order to continue her investigations, her sister Annagail must hide her Moshite identity in order to keep her job, and Quiz … well, Quiz has an identity secret all his own that I won’t spoil here. Those who seem good and benevolent turn out to be anything but, and everyone seems to be hiding a part of themselves. The problem with secrets is that they will eventually come out, and it’s not always for the better.
Reason #7: Hundreds of Ontario librarians can’t be wrong.
A Pocket Full of Murder has been selected as one of the ten contenders for this year’s Forest of Reading (Silver Birch) award. To explain: the Forest of Reading is Canada’s largest recreational reading program. This means that, out of all the possible books published by Canadian authors for this age group, APFoM is in the top ten best books for that age group selected by librarians and teacher-librarians for 250,000 + readers to read via their school and/or public library. All Ontarians and Canadians are invited to participate in the Forest of Reading via their local public library, school library, or individually.
As one of those librarians who reads for one of the selection committees, I can assure you that these decisions are not made lightly, and that there is MUCH discussion about what books should go on what lists. Are you going to argue with a bunch of librarians? Thought not.