The Ghost in the Crystal by Matt Posner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When you read the blurb of Matt Posner's first installment in the School of the Ages series, you'll automatically think it's another take on J.K. Rowling's franchise. I must admit, I've never actually read any of those books. Yes, yes, I know. Send me your outraged e-mails. I've seen some of the movies and have heard enough from HP fans to know that I had my doubts that "The Ghost in the Crystal" wouldn't be a copycat. I mean, you've got Leicester (aka Simon Magus), a teen boy, who's approached by a hidden school's recruiter, goes to said school, and promptly gets into more than his share of conflict. How is that NOT different than Daniel Radcliffe's portrayal?
Trust me when I say that Matt Posner's take on this NYC-based school of magic and its teenage occupants was refreshingly different. What I found most interesting and educational, actually, were the many references to other cultures, primarily Judaism in its various forms. The school itself is heavily influenced by its Jewish culture, with Rabbis, training in Cabala, and even a Kosher dining room. Other things I enjoyed learning about were Hindi culture, astrology, and other mystical arts like tea leaf and tarot card reading. Simon's use of magic was described well and easy to visualize. I felt like I was there learning with him.
A few places, I felt a bit lost, wishing there was a little more explanation of events. I did love the dialogue, though it verged on too philosophic at times, but the tone fit the story well. While it did take a few chapters to catch and hold me, I found myself eagerly awaiting the next chapter, wishing I could actually read it straight through in a day or two while on vacation (with three kids in tow, that wasn't possible). However, I ate up the final chapters on our drive home. Simon, his allies, enemies, and their struggles, grew on me, leaving me wanting to dive into the second book in the series. I give kudos to the author for writing a well-researched, intellectual, and fun tale that I'd recommend for middle grade students and beyond. Go grab your copy today and be sure to check out Book Two, "Level Three's Dream", which I hope to read in the near future.
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