In Review: Wandmaker

A good debut that will have young readers on the run with the heroes.

Wandmaker by Ed Masessa

Published by Scholastic, May 10, 2016. Paper-Over-Board hardcover of 336 pages at $12.99. Ebook also available. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: The title is written in gold script at the top of the cover, with two crossed wands immediately underneath it. Below this is the image of a castle with illuminated yellow windows, as a gigantic full moon rises behind it. Running toward the structure is a young boy, Henry Leach, the book’s protagonist. At the very bottom is the author’s name. This event does not occur in the book, but captures the spirit of the book well. This is a fairly generic fantasy cover, but with the boy heading to the castle, and should prompt curious readers to pick the book up. The cover art was done by Dominic Harmon and the design is credited to Carol Ly. Overall grade: B+

The premise: From the back cover, “Henry Leach the Eighth doesn’t know it yet, but he’s descended from a long line of wandmakers. That means he has inherited mysterious powers, a trunk full of strange artifacts…and a whole host of problems. His biggest problem at the moment, however, is his little sister, Brianna. She’s always had a special talent for getting in his way. And she takes troublemaking to a new heights when she’s caught in the crossfire of Henry’s first major spell! With the help of Grand Wand Master Coralis and a falcon that is more than it seems, Henry hopes to restore his sister to normal. But there’s a bad moon on the rise and a wicked wandmaker on the loose, and Henry is about to learn that normal is a thing of the past…Heartfelt, funny, and imaginative, Wandmaker is sure to leave young readers spellbound.” Books that feature a lead that is unaware of what he or she is destined for are always a good way to get young readers interested in reading. I’m interested to see what Henry did to his sister and what the villainous wandmaker is like. Overall grade: A

The characters: Henry Leach is a fun character. He wants to believe that magic is possible, having received his copy of The Wandmaker’s Guidebook and built his own wand. Yet, no matter how hard he tries, nothing happens. He’s a very optimistic character and looks for good in everyone, even if his little sister Brianna is a pain. As the book progresses, Henry’s abilities grow, but not to super levels that rival that kid that lived under the stairs. Brianna Leach is an incredibly fun character. She is every bit the imp that a nine-year-old sister would be, but she because even more enjoyable when she’s turned into “something” by her brother. Her interjections during serious situations bring some much needed humor to the story when things seem to be going dark. Brianna is a highlight of the book. Also fun is Coralis, the writer of The Wandmaker’s Guidebook, who travels to America to meet Henry. He’s part wizard, part grouch, but he’s never belittling of either of the young heroes and does what he can to train the boy. His interactions with characters provides many clues of things to come and many instances of humor. The villain of the novel, Dai She, is not the raving madman or solemn genius one would expect. He’s a very human character and that was a little disappointing. He’s very awkward and comes off as frail until close to the end of the book. When the novel shifted to his point of view, it added nothing to the book. He’s assisted by Henry’s father, Henry the Seventh. Not helping Dai’s character is this Henry thinking how weak he is. The villains of this novel are lackluster until just before the end. There’s also the surprising addition of two allies to Henry and his group in the last third of the book. They came off as a forced inclusion into the novel and did not ring true for belonging in this book. The brother and sister, with Coralis, are interesting and fun, but all the other characters come off as unfocused or unrealistic. Overall grade: C+

The settings: There are four primary settings in the book. The first is the Leach home set in anywhere in the suburbs of America. I thumbed through my copy of the book, but couldn’t find a specific location. It’s a home for four, with plenty of places for Henry to get some privacy as he’s trying to create magic. Coralis has a secret castle in Romania that’s everything one could want or need in a wizard’s home. It’s described well and, though only one room is truly explored, it instantly brought a magical mood to the story. The book then travels to the rural Mexico and the rural United States. These locations are generic, but do serve to move the story forward. Overall grade: B

The action: The action for the heroes is primarily spent on them getting somewhere so they can learn of the villains’ plot, while the villains have to overcome obstacles that come in their way as they try to achieve the destruction of the world. I was turning pages to see what was happening next, so this was enough to keep me reading, but there’s no direct conflict between both sides until the end of the novel. Overall grade: B

The conclusion: Things go atomic at the end, which was extremely surprising, a character passes, and the heroes live to fight another day. This was obviously setting things up for more, though the conflict is wrapped up well enough to have this be a satisfying ending. Overall grade: A-

The final line: A good debut that will have young readers on the run with the heroes. A stronger focus on the heroes will benefit future novels. Overall grade: B

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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