The Wizard of Dark Street (Egmont, July 26, 2011, 352 pages, middle grade), by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, has the following appealing elements, combined very nicely indeed to make a fun, beautifully middle-grade read:
--an orphan girl named Oona with an innate talent for magic, a gift that led to a terrible tragedy a few years ago
--a fascinating place, Dark Street, poised between a gate leading to our world at one end (which opens for just one minute ever night) and a gate to the fairy realm, locked after a fierce war some years before
--a mystery that could threaten the very existence not just of Dark Street, but our world as well, and cast our orphaned heroine out into the streets
--and (bonus features) a talking raven, a charming first crush, a captured fairy general forced to become a de facto butler, and some beautiful dresses.
Twelve-year old Oona would rather be a detective than a wizard, so when her uncle is (maybe) murdered by an enchanted dagger, she's determined to crack the case. But she's pretty sure that the villain behind it all is the same one who had her father murdered years ago...and in order to save uncle, Dark Street, and her own home (the beautifully imagined Pendulum House on which Dark Street depends), her penchant for logic and deduction might need help from the magical gifts she rejected after an enchantment went horribly wrong.
It's fun, it's fast, it has a pleasantly diverse cast of characters and a vividly imagined fantastical setting. I can't speak to the quality of the mystery, qua mystery--I'm not the sort of reader that thinks critically while reading, picking up clues and looking for inconsistencies; instead, reading a book like this, I am happy to be swept along, wide-eyed and slack-jawed....But regardless of that, I thought the concept of the heroine wanting to be a detective rather than a wizard was a nice twist, and Oona is a thoroughly engaging young heroine.
This is a lovely one to give to a ten or eleven year old girl in particular. I didn't find it to have a huge ton of emotional whumph, but it's a nice tight package of charming entertainment!
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher