When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. Wildly funny and cozily heartfelt, Delia Sherman’s latest is an eccentric fantasy adventure featuring dueling wizards, enchanted animals, and one stray boy with a surprising knack for magic.
After 12-year-old Nick Reynaud flees his abusive uncle, he's taken on as an apprentice by the wizard Zachariah Smallbone, who lives in the secluded, electronics-free Maine town of Smallbone Cove. Instead of being taught magic, Nick winds up managing the wizard's bookstore, cooking his meals, and trying to avoid getting turned into a spider (again). With the help of the store's books, Nick begins to harness his own powers, just as the seal-people his master has sworn to protect are threatened by the shape-shifting wolf wizard Fidelou. In an imaginative contemporary landscape of magical pelts and powerful tomes, Sherman (The Freedom Maze) delivers a cast of richly developed characters, though their backstories, as well as the magical history of Smallbone Cove, remain somewhat vague. Instead, the narrative focuses primarily on Nick's character growth as it builds to a climactic clash between wizards. Themes that include the importance of self-confidence and self-knowledge, as well as the power of appearances and of reading, should resonate with a broad range of readers. Ages 8 12.