Emily Drake,
The Magickers
(DAW, 2001)

Am I the only reviewer on the planet who doesn't like Emily Drake's The Magickers? The premise sounds a bit like Harry Potter goes to summer camp, but I was willing to give it every chance to succeed. Unfortunately, I found it derivative, dull and disappointing.

An injury keeps Jason out of soccer camp, but not to worry; his English teacher entered a story he wrote into a contest and won him a summer at Camp Ravenwyng. He isn't there long before he learns that he and all the other campers, including his friends Trent, Bailey and Henry Squibb, are potential Magickers, and they are at Camp Ravenwyng to get trained to help fight the Dark Hand of Brennard.

Jason runs into problems right away when he's bitten by a strange jackal-like animal. He doesn't tell anyone that he was bitten, and none of the counselors or the camp doctor -- all Magickers themselves -- recognize the mark the animal leaves for what it is. This is only one of the gaps in the Magickers' knowledge base. Another is how they never seem to notice that Jason is out of bed, wandering around the campground and listening to (very convenient) conversations.

The plot meanders, picking up and dropping subject threads all over the place. The beginning is very slow, and it doesn't pick up much once you get to the camp. The activity ranges from lanyards to crystals to softball games to the food to a camp thief, a camp ghost and a haunted cabin. All of these things bear a tangential relationship to each other; there is no cohesiveness and loose threads and inconsistencies abound. It was significant to me that if I put the book down without using a bookmark, I had difficulty finding my place again.

The temptation to compare The Magickers with the Harry Potter books is irresistible, as is the urge to pick out counterparts for nearly every major character at Hogwarts. The Hagrid character, for example, is the cook, FireAnn, a big woman with flaming red hair and a "cool Irish accent" that inexplicably shifts into a Scottish brogue at one point. The other characters are rather two-dimensional, defined by a list of traits rather than by complex personalities. Ting is timid, Henry is clumsy, Trent eats a lot, Bailey mangles platitudes and Jason has lots of magical power, none of which make the characters stand out to the reader. There is a slapdash formulaic quality to the book overall, as if Drake (a pseudonym) dashed it off without much thought.

Apparently, though, it has found an audience, and there is already a sequel. Perhaps it will get better.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 7 September 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.