Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Inquisitor's Apprentice

I'll be honest, this past year I've stepped away from YA and MG fiction, taking some time away from kidlit just to recharge my batteries. This fall, though, I dove back in big time. Gorging on one kind of book (in this case, fantasy and science fiction), one genre can be a real recipe for burnout. But the really great books that rise above all others can excite in ways that aren't just about the thrills of one book, but the kind of thrills that make you eager to pick up other books because they remind you just how awesome reading can be. One of those books, for me, is The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty. Read on to find out why...

First, it has a great premise: New York City, at the turn of the century, in a world with magic. Sacha, a young Jewish kid who can see magic, is apprenticed to the NYPD Inquisitor's division: the cops who solve magical crime. But more than having a great premise, this book acts on the best possible development of that premise. For a set-up that could fall into some old-timey Law & Order: Magical Crimes plot, it instead takes its time to become something all its own.

Second, it's steeped in the mood, character, and sensibilities of a great time period, but it doesn't get bogged down in capital H history the way historical fiction can. The Inquisitor's Apprentice is as much an alternate history of America, and New York specifically, as it is a fantasy, and the great thing about alternate histories is that the writer can comb the past for the awesome stuff, but not be held captive by the past. Similarly, the reader can enjoy a richly realized story without having to know who exactly every character is (or was).

Third, it's a tightly wound mystery, with personal stakes for Sacha. I love mysteries, but too often the only thing on the line for the main characters is whether or not they can solve everything in time before the bad guys get to them. But here, the more Sacha uncovers about the main crime (someone is trying to assassinate Thomas Edison using a Dybbuk, or Jewish doppleganger demon), the more he realizes he's involved in this up to his eyeballs.

The book's not perfect: I love the character of Sacha, but I wish he were more active. He reminds me of the main character Lewis from one of my all-time favorite books The House with a Clock in Its Walls, by John Bellairs, only not as whiny. So that's some good company to be in. All the characters in the book or fully realized, both on the page and in the mind of the reader.

Also, I wish the magic wasn't quite so... vague. Not that I want a wizard's manual, but sometimes the magic in the book seemed all too squishy, lacking the concrete-ness to stand on its own apart from whatever the needs of the plot are at the moment.

But, those quibbles aside, I loved this book. Above all, this is a book whose world I want to return to again and again, and, thankfully, the ending leaves an opening for more adventures of Sacha Lessing in the Inquisitor's Bureau of the NYPD.

Books mentioned in this review:
The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

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