A good book and a good mystery are like a good magic trick. It's part skill and part misdirection. We, the readers, must think one thing in order for us to be fooled by the eventual ending. Chris Moriarty's newest book, The Inquisitor's Apprentice is a perfect magic trick, a mixture of good storytelling and sleight of hand.
Sacha Kessler has an unusual gift. He can see magic when it is performed. This makes him a valuable commodity, in a society where magic has been outlawed, and a police league of Inquisitors are on the prowl for anyone with magical ties. Sacha soon finds himself apprenticed, along with the wealthy Lily Astral, to one of the greatest Inquisitors of all time, Mr. Wolf, an enigmatic slouch, who simply has to be more than he seems. Before long, they are embroiled in their first big case, in which someone has released a dybbuk, an evil wandering spirit of the dead, on Thomas Edison, in the hopes of killing the great inventor. The problem? Thanks to Edison’s new witch hunter invention, every magically inclined citizen of New York City has a motive for wanting him gone. Along the way, Sacha learns a new trick or two, makes new friends, comes to terms with his background and his future and faces great dangers, including one that could be the end of him forever.
The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is part historical novel (albeit of the alternative kind), part fantasy, part coming of age and all excellently done. Moriarty draws upon real figures from history, Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan and Houdini, and twists and shapes them to fit his new New York. There is a side of history, that of the poor factory workers living in tenements on Hester Street and the Jewish community that has formed there, that you rarely find told in middle grade literature, and that alone is interesting enough. Add to that a tightly crafted mystery and fantastical elements, and you have a wonderfully plotted book. The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is not an easy book to read; it takes concentration. It’s probably for the more advanced middle grade reader, someone who has the skills to tackle Moriarty’s vocabulary and complicated storytelling. But there’s an audience for this tale, yes there is. It’s just a matter of spotting the magic.
The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt