The world's most famous magician. But before his name became legend, who was young Harry Houdini?
New York City, 1886. Harry Houdini is just a penniless street urchin dabbling with a few escape tricks. But when a well-known magician goes missing in mysterious circumstances, Harry and his friends, Arthur and Billie, are sucked into a deadly adventure.
Now Harry must put all his extraordinary skills into action - not just to solve the mystery - but to stay alive. Because when he falls into the clutches of some of Manhattan's most dangerous villains, his spectacular escapes won't be for show - they'll be a matter of life and death!
In recent years we have seen a number of famous characters' origin stories written for the middle grade age group. Young Sherlock Holmes and Young Bond are the most obvious examples, but there is also Andy Briggs' excellent Tarzan reboot, featuring a young Lord of the Jungle. Now we have The Magician's Fire, the first in Simon Nicholson's new series featuring a Young Houdini.
Obviously this book differs from those others I have mentioned in that the main character is a real life historical figure, and whilst the real Houdini did lead a very exciting life through his theatrical escapades, an accurate biography of his younger years would not make for a hugely exciting series of 9+ readers. Thus, the author has had to take more than a few liberties, and this is very much a work of fiction. I can't think of too many other examples of this off the top of my head, other than the brilliant The Secret Journeys of Jack London by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon and the recently published The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, but I am sure there are many more examples out there.
Historical literature purists will no doubt turn their noses up at the liberties that Simon Nicholson has taken in the interest of producing an entertaining piece of fiction, and I am sure there will be a few less than favourable reviews produced by these killjoys. However, I very much enjoyed the fast-paced and exciting story that Nicholson has created for his young Houdini. The young Houdini is teamed with Arthur and Billie, two other very likable characters who join him in investigating the mysterious disappearance of a magician who Harry sees as his mentor in the magician's craft.
Each of the three young friends brings different skills to the investigation - Harry has a keen Sherlock-style eye for detail, although he has a tendency towards recklessness and acting before thinking through the consequences of his actions; Billie, like Harry, is from a poor background but she has grown up on the streets to become a practical, resourceful and streetwise young lade; and Arthur brings the brains to the mix - he is the only one of the three from a privileged background, has grown up surrounded by books, which he has used for company in the absence of any kind of attention or paternal love from his busy father.
This first book is a cracking start to a new series and I'm really looking forward to reading its sequel, The Demon Curse, which is due to be published next month. Although the mystery in The Magician's Fire is fully resolved, the author does leave us hanging at the end of its final chapter, with promises of what seems to be a secret society showing a great deal of interest in our young heroes. I have a feeling this is only going to create more exciting and dangerous adventures for Harry and his friends.
My thanks go to the fab people at OUP for sending me a copy of The Magician's Fire to read and review.