At first glance, one would be tempted to brush this book off. It’s a Harry Potter knockoff, one could say: a 13-year-old boy with a dead (beloved) mother who was raised (for protection purposes) outside of his “world” is reintroduced to a magical life he never knew existed, and finds out that he is the Chosen One, the magician that everything pivots upon.
But don’t brush it off too quickly.
Nick is our main character, and he’s much more jaded than Harry was. Nick’s grown up in a third-rate hotel on the Las Vegas strip where his father, a third-rate magician, performs every night (and twice on the weekends). Nick’s not a particularly special (or brilliant) kid: he likes his cheeseburgers, video games, and skateboard. So when he’s kidnapped and wakes up in the most famous magician’s (Damian’s) hotel, told that he’s related, and that he’s one of the Magickeepers — an ancient breed, of which this Russian family is the strongest, tasked with keeping track of magic relics — its understandable that Nick might just resist a little. Especially when the Russian relatives make him eat caviar and blini for breakfast.
This book suffers from first-in-a-series syndrome: there’s much exposition and explanation and very little payoff. That said, Kirov’s use — and slight twisting — of the historical (from Houdini and Jules Verne to Rasputin — the perpetual bad guy — and Princess Anastasia) was definitely a highlight. And, by the end, the book has us hooked enough on the fictional world to find us eagerly anticipating the next book (the final teaser with Edgar Allan Poe also helped). It’s a creative mix of magic and historical fiction that gives it just enough of a unique spin to make it different from Harry Potter, in spite of all the similarities.
And it’s those differences that make it worth reading.