Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

A Dangerous Magic

A Dangerous Magic

David Hounam
For ages 14 and up
Lerner, 2017   ISBN: 978-1512432329

Frank Sampson is a sorcerer. One would think that sorcerers, being gifted and useful, would be revered and valued, but many of the people in Frank’s world distrust sorcerers, thinking that they are in league with dark forces. There is even an organization whose members make it their life’s work to attack, and preferably kill, sorcerers.

It is therefore not surprising that Frank is a withdrawn and very antisocial individual. Ideally he would like to be left alone so that he can do his work in peace, but there are times when his expertise he is called on. Frank’s Gift is strong, so he can be very useful to the police, serving as a forensic sorcerer. When someone dies violently Frank is the best person to call to find out what happened.

One night a police officer called Magdalene Marvell comes to Frank’s studio to tell him that his skills are needed. Someone has murdered the Bishop of Oxford, and when Frank gets to the crime scene is clear that the attacker must have hated the bishop a great deal for the man’s head was cut off and removed. Frank conducts a magical rite to find out when the bishop died and then he and Marvo, as he likes to call her, go to talk to the one person from the bishop’s household who was not there when the police arrive on the scene.

Though Frank is very skilled when it comes to magic, he is not so skilled when it comes to communicating with people. He has a tendency to rub people the wrong way, to insult them, and to even upset them, which is what he does with the witness. The girl promptly runs off before Frank and Marvo can question her and they are back to square one.

Then, during a religious gathering, the bishop’s head is found. It was hidden inside a reliquary that used to contain the head of a long dead saint. Some time ago the bishop wrote a book that upset the Anti-Sorcery Brotherhood, so maybe they are the ones responsible for the man’s death, and they put his head in the reliquary to make a point.

Now that the bishop’s head and body are reunited, everyone is feeling that the investigation is moving forward. Except Frank. He is not convinced that the body and head belong to one another and when he does a magical rite to check their “contiguity” he determines that the two were not paired. Which makes no sense at all, unless sorcery was involved in the killing in some way.

If Frank could, for once, behave himself, keep his mouth shut, and work within the system he would be fine, but he cannot do any of these things. He never has been able to follow the rules, which is why he is working in the mortuary in the first place. He is warned again and again to watch what he says and does, but he just cannot seem to help himself and he digs himself into a bigger and bigger hole as he stumbles around trying to find out who killed the bishop and why. In the past he has always fallen on his feet, but this time he may just be going too far.

In this dark, sometimes troubling book we meet a young man who is a very talented magic worker, but who cannot makes friends or get along with anyone. He annoys the police, the clergy and even his own Master. Like an out-of-control train he barrels along leaving chaos in his wake. Throughout the book we get insights into Frank’s story, and we also learn about the strange alternate world that he lives in. This world very unpleasant and often violent, so we cannot be sure that Frank and his allies (few in number though they are) are going to survive the bizarre case of the murdered bishop.