Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Plastic Magician

The Plastic Magician

Charlie N. Holmberg
For ages 12 and up
47North, 2018   ISBN: 978-1503951778

For two long years Alvie has been attending the Jefferson School of Material Mechanics. She has been working hard, hoping all the while that she will be do well enough to get a diploma, and thus win an apprenticeship to study with a magician who is a Polymaker. Learning how to manipulate and create spells that work on plastic is her dream, and she is therefore thrilled when Mg Jefferson tells her that she is going to get her wish; she is going to get her apprenticeship, and she is going to work with “the newest of the seven known man-made materials that could be used as a medium for magic.” Better still, Alvie is going to be apprenticed to Magician Marion Praff, one of the most famous and admired Polymakers in the world. She will be living with him in his house in England!

Moving from her family home in Columbus, Ohio and going to live in a mansion outside of London is a big change for Alvie, but she is so committed to her path in life that she takes it all in stride by reminding herself of  “the adventure of it all.” The trip to London is a long and exhausting one, but she manages it well enough until she is on the train going from Dover to London. Alvie meets a Polymaker called Magician Ezzell, who is rather put out that she has not heard of him. He is even more put out when he hears that she is going to be studying with Magician Marion Praff. Mg. Ezzell tells her that the next stop is the one she needs, but when she gets off the train she realizes that this is not the case.  Thankfully,  a very kind young man called Bennet Cooper takes pity on her and he helps her figure out how to get back to the correct station. It turns out that Bennet is an apprentice too. He is going to be a Folder, a magician who manipulates paper.

When Alvie finally gets to Mg. Praff’s estate, Briar Hall, she is rather shocked by how enormous and lavish it is. Thankfully, Mg. Praff turns out to be a very down-to-earth sort of man who is pleased to meet his new apprentice, and who immediately endears himself to her by replacing the very thick and heavy lenses in her spectacles with thinner and lighter ones that are made of plastic.

On their first morning together Alvie’s teacher takes her to his polymery, the lab where he does all his work. The lab is marvelous, and Alvie even has a room of her own to work in. The first order of business is to bond Alvie to her chosen material. Then Mg Praff begins to teach her the “rudimentary spells” that she is going to need to learn to become a Polymaker. Alvie is so eager to learn and practice that she often has her meals in the polymery so that she does not waste any time.

A week after arriving in England, Alvie learns that the annual Discovery Material Mechanics Convention is going to be held in Oxford in the spring. She knows that this event is the “largest showcase for Polymakers in the world,” and is delighted when her teacher tells her that they will be attending. However, he is not sure what he wants to take because he is in a “bit of a rut.”

Mg. Praff then tells Alvie that he expects her to donate a minimum of two hours a week in volunteer work. Alvie decides that she will offer what assistance she can at the local hospital, which is how she meets a young woman called Ethel, who lost one of her arms in a factory accident. Ethel’s brother turns up and Alvie is surpised to see that he is Bennet, the young man she met in the train station. Seeing Ethel’s arm artificial gives Alvie a wonderful idea.

When she gets back to Briar Hall, at a run, Alvie tells Mg Praff her idea. They could build Ethel a prosthetic hand, one that will move and work almost like the real thing. Mg Praff is delighted with her idea and the two excited Polymakers get to work.

Knowing that some magicians are willing to do just about anything to get on in the world, Alvie and Mg Praff are careful about keeping their work as secret as they can. They know that some Polymakers have had their polymeries broken into, presumably by people who want to steal their spells. Alvie tells Ethel and Bennet what they are up to and Ethel is touched that Alvie is going to so much to help her. It turns out that one magician in particular is very keen to find out what they are up to. Mg Ezzel, the man Alvie met on the train who gave her misleading information, tries to bribe her to reveal what she and Mg. Praff are working on. She naturally refuses, which infuriates Mg. Ezzel. It turns out that some people simply cannot take no for an answer.

This wonderful novel is set in the world that the author gave her readers in the Paper Magician books. We meet a delightful young woman who is very clever and dedicated to her craft, but who is also clumsy and sometimes socially awkward.