Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Dirty Magic

Dirty Magic

Carol Hughes
For ages 12 to 14
Random House, 2006   ISBN: 978-0375831874

Joe is thoroughly fed up with his four-year-old sister Hannah. Ever since she was born she has been the center of everyone's attention. His parents fuss over her all the time and she never gives him any peace or space. Now Hannah has really gone too far, she has ruined one of Joe's precious comic books and he is so furious he can hardly stand it. Joe says all kinds of hurtful and angry things and is sent to his room for his bad behavior.

When Joe wakes up the next morning he sees Hannah being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Everything becomes confused because Joe's dreams and real life appear to be overlapping in the strangest way. Then a girl he has never seen before turns up. She wants him to go with her to some place, but Joe is afraid and refuses to do so.

Joe goes to the hospital to see Hannah and as he looks at her lying in the hospital bed he begins to wonder if she is really there. Joe saw Hannah being taken away from him in a jeep in his dream and yet here she is in the hospital. Could it be that she is here and yet at the same time "something more important" is going on? The mysterious girl appears again and this time Joe agrees to go with her because she says that she will help him find his lost sister.

The place the girl takes Joe to is truly dreadful. It is an island called Asphodel where civil war is destroying everything. Joe arrives in No Man's Land and has to make the dangerous journey to a place behind the lines. The girl, Katherine, does little to explain to him what is going on. It is only when they get to the guide's canteen and when they meet Spider, one of the guides, that Joe begins to find out where he is and what is going on. Apparently he is in a place "between heaven and earth," "between life and death." Dying children who are not ready to move on the next world come here. They are collected by "fetchers" like Katherine and are taken across the land by "guides" like Spider. Spider also explains that things used to be simple in the land until two of its rulers, sisters called Meril and Elysia, quarreled and civil war broke out. Now getting from one place to the next is very dangerous and there are secret police who are always looking for "spies" from the other side.

Katherine and Spider do not get along but Katherine agrees to let Spider become Joe's guide. And so the three set off for Quarain, a camp where they will get the passes that they need to take Joe to the next place he must go to.

The journey is full of danger and discomfort and the three are always trying to dodge the secret police. When they get to Quarain they discover that guides and their charges have been waiting there for weeks to get the right paperwork. Spider, Katherine, and Joe cannot afford to wait, so they find another way to get the signatures that they need. But, alas, the secret police find Joe and only by sheer good luck is the boy able to escape. It soon becomes clear that the travelers are not going to be able to use normal channels of transportation. Instead, they are going to have to head out alone across the Machine Lands in the hope that they will be able to get to the Long City, Joe's destination, in one piece.

What follows is a hair-raising trip during which Joe makes a horrifying discovery about the children who have come to this world and what has been happening to them. Joe is sure that one of the children is Hannah, and he has to do what he can to save her and the other children from those who want to use the state of war, and the children as well, for their own purposes.

In this unique story the author takes her readers to a place where chaos reigns and where no one feels able to trust anyone else. A horrible secret lies beneath the surface and Joe, a reluctant and confused participant, ends up exposing it for all to see. One never knows what is going to happen next, and the startling ending will leave readers feeling happily dazed.