The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris

The Blurb On The Back:

Do you believe in magic?

Magic comes in all shapes and sizes and colours and tastes and smells and feelings.

Magic may even come in the shape of a book …

When Carter Locke runs away he’s never felt more alone. But then he finds a gang of other young magicians …

and THE MAGIC MISFITS are born!

Street magician Carter knows that magic tricks are just that – tricks. But when he runs away he finds himself alone and in danger from a dastardly carnival ringleader. He could really use some magic now …

A chance encounter with the mysterious Mr Vernon leads Carter to a gang of other young magicians. Can the Magic Misfits use their skills to foil the ringleader’s most evil scheme yet? And will Carter find the real magic hiding in this story?

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Carter Locke has lived with his Uncle Sly ever since his parents mysteriously disappeared when he was little. Sly is a thief and a conman, travelling from town to town using various schemes and tricks to part people from their valuables, but he has also taught Carter how to perform street magic and although Carter refuses to steal, he enjoys putting on shows for people.

When Sly eventually goes too far, Carter jumps a train to escape, ending up in the small American town of Mineral Wells. Penniless and without a clue of what to do next, he checks out the carnival that’s also in town – B. B. Bosso’s Carnival Spectacular – only to attract the attention of Mr Bosso himself, who appears to have a sinister plan for Carter. Fortunately he also meets Mr Vernon, owner of the local magic shop and guardian of Leila (a keen escapologist). Leila is friends with Theo (a keen musician who enjoys levitation tricks) and Ridley (whose wheelchair doesn’t stop her from inventing various magical tricks and schemes but who is suspicious of Carter) and when the four of them realise that Bosso has a dastardly scheme for the people of Mineral Falls, they must somehow find a way to come together and stop him …

Neil Patrick Harris’s debut fantasy novel for children aged 9+ (the first in a quartet) features great illustrations by Lissy Marlin and Kyle Hilton, a wonderfully chatty style and a diverse cast of characters while intertwining the fast-paced story with magic trick suggestions and games that kids should enjoy but the plot was a little unoriginal and the diverse supporting cast seldom rose above the page to achieve any real depth.

I hadn’t known before reading the book that Harris had served as president of the Academy of Magical Arts but his love of magical tricks really comes through in the book and it’s at its strongest where he’s either describing how readers can perform their own tricks at home or revealing how various cons work. I also enjoyed the various games that crop up through the book, including some code breaking and hidden messages within the chapters, which should keep the target readership occupied for a while.

Carter himself is okay as a character – the obligatory orphan with a wicked relative seeking to take advantage of him – I liked his moral code and his ingenuity and although I can guess how his backstory will be resolved, it’s easy to root for his success. Harris also deserves some kudos for working to have diversity in the supporting cast – I liked the fact that Mr Vernon has a husband, that Leila and Theo are not white (and particularly that Theo is from a wealthy family) and that Ridley is portrayed as being in a wheelchair but able to participate. However these supporting characters are lightly sketched and I was particularly uncomfortable by how Ridley is frequently described by reference to her chair (e.g. she “wheels” everywhere) and there’s a suggestion that her intellect in compensates for her disability (although I did enjoy her fierce personality).

The plot itself is fine – nothing incredibly original but it plays out at a decent pace and I enjoyed Harris’s chatty writing style (which reminded me a great deal of Lemony Snicket) and although Bosso is a one-dimensional villain, I did like the mysterious frown clowns and the air of menace that comes from Bosso’s carnival folk.

All in all, this is a perfectly solid read that I think children aged 9+ would enjoy but I can’t say that I will rush to read the sequel.

THE MAGIC MISFITS was released in the United Kingdom on 30th November 2017. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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