Let me start with a confession. I picked up this book not knowing who Neil Patrick Harris is. A few days later, when I’d finished the book, a family member pointed out to me that he is in fact a well-known actor and comedian. Of course, with this knowledge I instantly recognised him from How I Met Your Mother and various films.
This book is designed to sell by the bucket load. It is a story about magic, which is interspersed with guide that teach you some basic magic tricks. There are codes to break. The cover screams out to grab your attention. All of these factors will encourage children to buy this book.
In the book, we meet Carter (an orphan) who now lives with his Uncle Sly Mike. Unimpressed by his Uncle’s scheming ways, Carter runs away to the town of Mineral Wells. Here he stumbles across a questionable circus, meets a magician and finds himself making friends with the local misfits. Before long, the Magic Misfits battle to save the day and reveal the circus’ real actions and motives.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, this is the first book in a planned series. Therein lies the first problem with this book. Similar to Vlad The Worst Vampire, a lot of the narrative is spent introducing characters and setting up the gang. As such, the adventure in this book is not clear until halfway through the book. As a contrast, in Gaslight from the first pages the reader knows that Nansi’s aim will be to track down her mother.
The narration in the book held a bit of a bugbear for me. In places it reminded me of Lemony Snicket. Harris often switches perspective to talk directly to the reader and includes little interludes. An examples of this included telling the reader that the word ‘nick’ could be a man’s name or to steal. I just found these interludes to be a little belittling rather than humourous as they are meant to be. Thankfully for me, these examples became less frequent as the story progress.
At the end of the day, this is an innocent enough story. It is an fairly accessible read with enough to draw young readers in. Issues such as disability, stereotyping and bullying are touched upon. This leaves a colourful bunch of lead characters, who I’m sure will be developed over the series. For some children, this would be the perfect book. However, I feel that there are far better books out there.
Age Recommendation: 7 – 10 years
Pages: 272 pages