Ned’s gotten into an elite new school. But there’s a problem—everyone there can do magic. And Ned can’t. Ned tries to adjust to his new situation, avoid making enemies, and jump-start his magic skills, all with very little luck. Then, just as he’s getting accustomed to having his hair turned into snakes and his books into bricks, Necromancers strike and Ned and his classmates are kidnapped. But without magic, how can he possibly help them escape?
An author must be either very confident or very foolish to attempt another novel about a fish-out-of-water boy sent to a school of witchcraft and wizardry. Laybourn is evidently the former, as she laces her U.S. debut with heaps of humor and a strong moral message. Eleven-year-old Ned is "magically challenged" in a world where everyone uses magic to meet their every need, he is totally devoid of magical ability. Despite this, he is accepted into Leodwych School, largely thanks to the efforts of his influential Uncle Kelver, a powerful mage. At school, he is bullied for being different pelted with flying food, his hair turned into snakes and in time he runs away, homesick for the simple life on his parents' farm. Under pressure from his father, he returns to school, only to be one of several school children kidnapped by the airships of the Necromancers. There he discovers that his Uncle Kelver is not the benevolent man he thought he was and learns the reason he cannot perform magic. Comparisons to Harry Potter may abound; indeed, Laybourn seems to invite them at times. But the moral of the story that laziness and stagnation are truly dangerous elevate this little book to a grand parable. Ages 8-up.