Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Size: 368 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: ARC from Publisher
Rating: 5/5 stars
I got an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher. This was an excellent book. It is based during the cold-war and touches on issues that were important then (Communism and the atomic bomb, Nationalism) as well as entwining magic throughout the story. Very well written and a pleasure to read, with beautiful black and white illustrations. I finished it in one sitting and enjoyed every minute of it.
In the early 1950’s Janie’s parents are suspected of being sympathetic to Communism; as a result Janie and her family are forced to flee from America to London. In London Janie is miserable until she stumbles into Benjamin Burrows. Benjamin is the son of an apothecary and wants to be a spy; he ropes Janie into helping him spy in the park one day. Little do they know that there are very dangerous events afoot and Benjamin’s father is part of them. Their innocent spying turns into a flight for their lives as they are drawn into a conflict that spans nations and involves a magical book called the Phramacopia.
I loved this book because it just covered so many different things and made them into a wonderful cohesive and magical story. There is a lot in here about cold war politics, the atom bomb, international spies, and war in general; but there are also other issues covered like fitting in at a new school, the morality of war, idealism in science, and the responsibilities of those who wield great (magical and scientific) power.
Janie is a wonderful character; she is realistic, resourceful, and very easy to relate too. I loved her parents; they treat her like the smart kid she is and are witty and funny. Benjamin was another fascinating character; his obsessions with international spies gets him into a ton of trouble, but he is a realistic character that is again easy to relate to. I loved following Janie and Benjamin through the story as they struggle to unravel the mystery and master the spells presented by the Pharmacopia.
The story was presented in a very creative way; I love how it was presented as something Janie couldn’t remember until she got her diary back to read through. There are many twists and turns throughout; yet the story is never hard to follow. At times though you are not sure who is bad and who is good and it is hard to predict how everything will turn out; which I loved.
There was a lot of action and adventure; the story was fast-paced and hard to put down. I read the whole thing in one-sitting. The story wraps up nicely.
Overall I thought this was an absolutely wonderful book. I loved all the different elements of history, science, and magic that were blended together to make this story. Janie and Benjamin are fun characters that are easy to relate too. The book is fast-paced and full of excellent plot twists. There is fun magic in the story too: invisibility potions, transformations into birds…lots of fun things to surprise and delight readers. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to people middle grade and older who love historical fantasy with some war politics woven throughout. A great read and I can’t wait to see what Meloy writes next.