So I've been home from vacation for two days now...and, as always happens when I come back from my mother's beautifully tidy home, I am frantically trying to Do Something about my own house. But in between quickly stripping paint from doors/painting the kitchen trim/scrubbing radiators/desperately weeding etc. etc., I have read a Good Book.
The Watcher in the Shadows, by Chris Moriarty. This is the sequel to The Inquisitor's Apprentice (2011), which I enjoyed very much indeed. The books are set in a late 19th-century New York in which there is magic...and a branch of the police force, the Inquisitors, who enforce the laws concerning its use. Sacha, a Jewish kid from the tenements, and Lily, daughter of the wealth Astral family, are the apprentices of one of these Inquisitors, Inspector Wolf; it's an apprenticeship that involves much trailing around after him while visiting crime scenes, observing him gathering information, and a bit of martial arts training (there's not as much actual "magical skills practice" as one might expect).
This installment of Sacha's story begins with the sudden death of a famous Klezmer player, that is just the tip of the iceberg of a dark dark dark mystery. The plot is best left explored by reading, so that's all I'll say.
Fantastic world building. These books are a MUST for any fantasy reader with any interest at all in the hectic world of late 19th-century/early 20th century New York, with its unassimilated immigrants and racial tensions and crime bosses and striking workers (in this case, the Pentacle Shirtwaist factory workers vs J.P. Morgaunt). That being said, I am not that reader, but even I loved the fantastic diversity and twisted historical accuracy of it all!
Great characters. Sacha is the central protagonist, and a very compelling one too, but it's the wonderful swirl of the entire cast, even those with bit parts, that makes the story sing. That being said, Wolf, who I loved in the first book, disappointed me a bit in this one--he doesn't actually do much that advances the story.
No easy magical sudden rescue from the bad stuff. Sacha is going to have to figure things out for himself, which is very satisfying.
Jewish fantasy is thin on the ground; quality additions to that subgenre are great to have (and if your kid isn't going to be introduced to Judaism in fiction through All of Kind Family, because there is no way he is going to read such a girl book on his own and you missed the window of opportunity to read it out loud to him, this is a good alternative).
The things I didn't find as good as I might have wished:
Even more so than Wolf, Lily doesn't do anything much in this book; it's nice that she is a decent, unsnobby friend, but I don't even remember what magical ability she has (surely she has one?). More Lily, please, in the next book!
The titular Watcher in the Shadows also doesn't get much page time. I enjoyed very much wandering around this odd New York, and loved the labor history twist, but kept expecting the Watcher to become more a part of things, which never really happened--at the end I had to stop and concentrate to remember what exactly its role in the whole thing was (quite possibly this is because I was really interested in the world-building and the characters, as noted above, and less interested in small details such as the plot).
Wolf has a third, unofficial apprentice, unofficial because he's African American, who's somewhat older than Sacha and Lily. His name is Philip Payton, but he's called Payton by Lily, as well as by the author. No one else who's still a teenager is called by their last name like that, and it jarred (Inspector Wolf is called Wolf by the author, but he's a grownup). Why wouldn't Lily, who isn't racist or snobbish, call him Philip? I very much want to see more of him and his family (who are about to move to Harlem, where they have bought real estate), but I hope he's "Philip," a character who's Sasha and Lily's peer, rather than the awkwardly distant "Payton."
Final answer: despite my small uncertainties, I really, really liked it! Give this one to the smart 11 or 12 year old in your life, who perhaps, like mine, studied the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in depth last year in seventh grade...