Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Pocket Full of Murder

Title: A Pocket Full of Murder
Series: Uncommon Magic #1
Author: R. J. Anderson
Genre: Tween Fantasy Mystery
Ratings: Craft—5, Content—4,
              Overall—4.7 out of 5 stars
Excerpt from Chapter 1:

Propped on the flour-dusted stand, the Book of Common Magic looked as innocent as the ordinary cookbooks tucked behind it. Only the tremor in Isaveth’s fingers as she turned the pages betrayed her apprehension. She’d never made spell-tablets all by herself before. Perhaps she should go to Aunt Sallume’s and ask . . .

But then she’d have to pass the Kerchers’ house again, and Isaveth didn’t like that idea at all. Not that their cottage was much worse than any of the others on Cabbage Street: There was nothing unusual about soot-stained brick, peeling pain, and a porch cluttered with old beer crates, even if the hole in the upstairs window did look like a fat spider sitting in its web. She’d been bold enough earlier that morning, with Mimmi clinging to her hand and Lilet scowling at her heels; she’d marched her sisters straight past the Kerchers’ and around the corner to Aunt Sal’s without a second thought.

Only, the porch had been empty then, and now it wasn’t.

A young girl sets out to prove her father didn’t kill a noble with Common Magic.

The Craft: Mixing genres is difficult to pull of well, probably because you must meet the reader’s expectations for not only one genre, but two or more. Yet mixing genres is exactly what R. J. Anderson does in A Pocket Full of Murder, and she does it brilliantly as she sets a classic-styled mystery in a fantasy world.

So on one hand, you have all the elements you would expect in a good fantasy: a unique made-up world (this one reminiscent of Victorian England), the struggle between good and evil, a corrupt government, and supernatural elements. On the other hand, you have all the race-against-the-clock, must-unravel-the-puzzle-now tension as characters follow a trail of clues to solve the mystery. The ending is a little open-ended, but as I had hoped, this is only book one!

Add on top of this quirky characters who make you laugh and the beautifully written prose, and you have an all-around winner.

The Content: Like most of Ms. Anderson’s works, her Christian content is subtle in A Pocket Full of Murder , those perhaps more obviously present than in most of her books. She has parallel religion, which has an interestingly distinctive Jewish flavor, and refers to the All-One in several places. She also deals with a wide variety of topics: how one handles public displays of one’s faith (especially in a culture antagonistic toward you), forgiveness, deception, how different ranks of people perceive—and treat—each other, and dealing with bullies.

As for common topics of concern, the most prominent one in this book is the wielding of magic. I personally have problems, however, with how it is handled in this book. With the story set in an alternate world, this magic is a part of the natural order of the world and is thus treated much in the same way we treat technology.

There is also some violence, as would be expected with both fantasy and mystery. There is the bullying between kids, a murder, a suicide, and police brutality among other things. However, with an exception of some bullying, almost all this violence occurs off the page, keeping the story very accessible for tween readers.

This is no language (as far as I can remember), and no sexual content. There is a very light romantic thread that develops toward the end of the story and one attempted kiss.

Summary: A Pocket Full of Murder is a delightful mixture of fantasy and mystery with quirky characters and a plot that keeps the pages turning. Those who have a strong sensitivity toward the supernatural might have to steer clear of this book. But otherwise, I highly recommend it for tweens and suspect that many older readers, like me, would also enjoy this story.

Ratings: Craft—5, Content—4, Overall—4.7 out of 5 stars

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