Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: A Pocket Full of Murder by RJ Anderson

A Pocket Full of Murder by RJ Anderson
Series: Uncommon Magic #1
Published: September 8th, 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
252 pages (ARC)
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy/Mystery
Acquired this book: Via Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for honest consideration
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}

In the spell-powered city of Tarreton, the wealthy have all the magic they desire while the working class can barely afford a simple spell to heat their homes. Twelve-year-old Isaveth is poor, but she’s also brave, loyal, and zealous in the pursuit of justice—which is lucky, because her father has just been wrongfully arrested for murder.

Isaveth is determined to prove her innocence. Quiz, the eccentric eyepatch-wearing street boy who befriends her, swears he can’t resist a good mystery. Together they set out to solve the magical murder of one of Tarreton’s most influential citizens and save Isaveth’s beloved Papa from execution.

But each clue is more perplexing than the next. Was the victim truly killed by Common Magic—the kind of crude, cheap spell that only an unschooled magician would use—or was his death merely arranged to appear that way? And is Quiz truly helping her out of friendship, or does he have hidden motives of his own? Isaveth must figure out who she can trust if she’s to have any hope of proving her Papa’s innocence in time. . .

I haven’t read much Middle Grade, but since I’ve been trying to branch out in the last couple years, I’ve picked up a few and have really enjoyed them. I was intrigued by the concept (and the cover) of A Pocket Full of Murder, plus I enjoyed Anderson’s science fiction YA duology, Ultraviolet and Quicksilver, so jumped at the chance to receive an ARC from Simon & Schuster Canada.

A Pocket Full of Murder is a creative, clever, and fun read. The setting made me feel like I was reading a story set in Victoria era England with magic and other fantastical elements. Think Charles Dickens but with magic and murder. There were so many elements of the book that made it unique - the names, some of the language, the religion, and the magic. The world building itself reminded me of Harry Potter in a way - wonderfully unique and exciting, something you’ve never seen before. A world that’s completely fantastical and yet believable, something you can picture yourself in and immerse yourself in.

Isaveth, our independent and plucky heroine, was a great main character. She was smart, resourceful, and wise beyond her years. She’d been forced to grow up quickly because of her family’s circumstances, and she amazed me with her strength and resilience. I loved Quiz. He was an interesting mixture of mystery and humour and tough street kid.

There were so many great elements that set this book apart. Don’t get me wrong - just because I’ve mentioned Dickens and Harry Potter doesn’t mean I’m comparing the actual story to either. A Pocket Full of Murder had so many things that set it apart. The magical elements were really cool. I liked the concept that there were different kinds of magic for the different classes. There was spell baking, which is what Isaveth did, but then rich people could buy mass-produced magic and the sages could create their own magic. It was fascinating. I also liked the religious element. It was ever-present without being in your face. It added to the story, especially when it came to Isaveth’s family’s misfortunes - they were discriminated against not just because they were poor, but also because they were a different religion, one that was seen as troublemakers and the cause of a lot of problems. It was something real, relatable, and timeless in an otherwise fantasy world.

While there were so many things I loved about A Pocket Full of Murder, I did have a few minor complaints. I think the book would have worked better as a young adult novel than middle grade. I kept forgetting Isaveth was only twelve because she seemed much older. The ‘romance’ between her and Quiz also felt kind of weird since she was so young. At times when Quiz made me giggle and start to swoon, I’d be jarred from the story with a thought like, “GAH, but he’s only thirteen!” I have a nephew that age and the last thing I want to think about is him involved in a romantic relationship. My mind and heart warred over rooting for any sort of romance between Isaveth and Quiz because of their ages. Personally I think the story would have worked better if Isaveth and Quiz had been sixteen or seventeen. Besides that, I found the ending abrupt. There was all this build up and then suddenly it was over and there was an epilogue that wrapped things up but not in a very satisfying way. The overall outcome was satisfying, but the execution was lacking and felt hurried. I’m curious to see what happens in the sequel, A Little Taste of Poison.

A Pocket Full of Murder is full of great characters, magic, and a mystery that will keep you guessing with its twists and turns. I highly recommend this one!

{Read my review of Ultraviolet || Quicksilver}

Have you read A Pocket Full of Murder? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Do you read middle grade? If you haven't, would you be willing to give it a try if you found something that appealed to you?

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