So far, the “S. Horten” books, by Lissa Evans, have bridged the divide between child and adult fiction beautifully. The first in the series, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms was charming, quirky, and fun, not to mention smart as well. The sequel, Horten’s Incredible Illusions, doesn’t have quite the breathtaking cleverness of the first but is still heads above similarly marketed middle-grade fiction.
“Hello, little chap,” said the museum receptionist, smiling down at him. “Have you come for the Junior Fun Day storytelling session?”
“No,” said Stuart.
“You get a very special hat,” she added encouragingly.
“No,” repeated Stuart between gritted teeth.
In Incredible Illusions, 10-year-old Stuart Horten is given a job curating his Uncle “Teeny-Tiny” Tony’s recently unearthed magical contraptions. With enticing names like “The Cabinet of Blood,” and “The Book of Peril,” the magical devices each hold a secret; a secret that needs to be revealed and solved in order to find Uncle Tony’s long-lost will. Once activated, the contraptions spirit Stuart and his friend April away to other realms, where their wits and their friendship are tested.
“So maybe that’s how it works,” said April. “We find how the trick operates – the switch or the swivel or the lock or the handle or whatever – and that’s where the Magic Star goes.”
She gave a bounce of excitement. “So let’s get going! This is the next one, isn’t it? The next adventure.”
It’s easy to enjoy this light, breezy story. It’s got charm in spades and endearing characters in not only the two leads but the sundry secondary characters as well: like Clifford, the rather terrible budding magician, or Stuart’s crossword puzzle-creating, painfully verbose father. Author Evans finds the perfect subplot in father/son tension, and figures out a way to have Stuart and his dad communicate and attempt to resolve their differences without being untrue to Stuart’s young age. Considering how many stories for children remove parents from the equation entirely, it is refreshing that Stuart’s mom and dad are both caring and engaged in his life. Another subplot involves a mysterious, and very rich, older woman who wants to purchase the Horten magic tricks and is rather insistent about wanting to acquire them. The plots weave together nicely, the language is precise and intelligent and there’s always a lot of humor accompanying the proceedings. Altogether, Horten’s Incredible Illusions makes for a fantastic read.
A wonderful middle-grade book that young-at-heart adults will enjoy as well – can’t wait for the next one in the series!