I enjoyed reading this book. In fact, I started leafing through it back in early March, when I still had stacks of other books to review, and ended up getting so instantly hooked, I finished it in two days. The writing is polished and engaging, the characters real enough, the pace perfect for its intended tween audience. It was just a little...familiar.
Let's see (massive spoilers alert): A young boy is living with his uncle, his parents largely out of the picture. He suddenly discovers his parents are not who he thought they were, and that he has a magical talent. He is whisked off to a secret school by a somewhat frightening-looking man. There, he immediately makes two friends, a boy and a girl in his same class. The boy's father is a scholar, and the boy himself is the target of the class bullies (whose father is rather influential). The girl has some family issues that would cause many other students to look down upon her. The boy does not initially trust the girl. We meet a kindly older professor who knew the main character's parents, and who isn't telling him everything, but we know we can trust him.
There is a mysterious something at the school that the bad guy (who is responsible for the absence of the main character's parents) is looking for. The three friends go through a tunnel, each helping to overcome a different obstacle, to find that which has been sought. Then the bad guy shows up, and we discover that the eccentric professor with the goofy eye was really him in disguise. The main character is left to face him alone, and uses his magical powers to defeat him - but only for the time being. The thing the bad guy had been looking for is now locked away again by the head of the school, and everything, particularly the presence of the bad guy, is hushed up.
Heck, we even have regular stays in the school infirmary, where we overhear bits of conversation, and diversions that get the whole school's attention while the bad guy tries to do his searching. Not to mention large scary animals that are used to help our heroes. And secret rooms to hide in. And maps that only appear when you do something to the paper. Not to mention the whole LIGHTNING shape on everything.
All this is a shame, because the writing is really very good, and the setting is unique and intriguing. I do want to see more of this series (because it is undoubtedly set up to be a series), and I will be adding Ms. Cameron's name to my watch list. I am planning to buy a copy of this one for the library when it comes out May 7, and will point it out to any middle schoolers. I would like to make the suggestion, however, that any sequels not include, say, a ghost in a bathtub.
Thank-you, HarperCollins, for the ARC.