Stan Swanson,
The Misadventures of Hobart Hucklebuck
(Stony Meadow, 2007)

In the little town of Pennywhistle, there are two kinds of magic: enchantments and ordinary. Many items are enchanted when they are made, with examples being that the bread will jump into the toaster when so ordered and brooms will sweep when directed to do so. These enchantments are highly regulated, with strict quality control and no risk to anyone. Ordinary magic, though, are spells and incantations, each designed for a certain purpose. Ordinary magic is rarely practiced, and highly discouraged, as the outcomes are much less predictable.

Hobart Hucklebuck, age 12, is staying with his centenarian grandfather, Wicksford Waxenbee, while Hobart's parents are out on an expedition during Hobart's spring break from school. This is fine with Hobart, as he loves his grandfather, who is an accomplished enchanter and magician and who owns a shop selling magical items. But, soon after spring break starts, enchanted items stop working like they should, and a local bureaucrat, Pernacious Prattfall, with a long-time grudge against Wicksford Waxenbee, blames the old man's experiments with ordinary magic for causing the ever-growing epidemic of disenchantment. Wicksford ends up imprisoned in the Tower of Tribulation, and Hobart is not about to stand idly by! He and his friends, Specks Spacklethayer and Rosie Rumpleskirt, set out to solve the mystery of who and what is really behind the disenchantments. They have no shortage of suspects, an unexpected ally and a very surprising conclusion.

At first, the alliterative, polysyllabic names were irritating. Wicksford Waxenbee's housekeeper is Flora Flaxenfluff. Uh, that's a bit much. But, then, I reminded myself of the target audience: children anywhere between the ages of 7 and 12. Given that audience, I think the names will be colorful positives. The characters of Hobart and his grandfather are fairly well-developed, but I found some of the supporting cast to need more work, especially Specks and Rosie. However, as this is the first in a series of books, I anticipate further development in the sequels.

As to the story itself, Stan Swanson has crafted a colorful and fun adventure tale and, despite being a children's book (and my childhood is decades behind me), I found it strangely compelling. After the first quarter of the book, where the foundations are laid and the characters are introduced, I couldn't put the darn thing down! While this tale is not as complex, convoluted or compelling as a Harry Potter story, it was certainly fulfilling and satisfying enough for the younger children who might find the Potter books intriguing, but one step too dark or sophisticated. The rapid pace will also suit young readers well, as they will not likely get bored.

Magic and enchantment are discussed often in this book, but not much is described in detail. Early in the book, we learn about how enchantment differs from magic, and we get examples of enchantments working, and then not working. In the penultimate chapter, where the good-versus-evil battle occurs, the reader sees much more magic in action.

I end up easily recommending this book for children ages 7 to 10, and I expect that many of their parents will enjoy reading it, as well (when no one is looking, of course).

review by
Chris McCallister

27 October 2007

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