Archie Greene is just an ordinary boy who lives with his grandmother, until his twelfth birthday, when a mysterious package is delivered to him. Inside the package is a book, and like most things in Archie's life, this book is old. Archie (who does not care for most things that are old) is intrigued by the book, and soon finds himself in an entirely different world and with a very big destiny to fulfill. When the book arrives on Archie's doorstep, his grandmother is forced to reveal the secrets that she had been keeping for his entire life: that he belongs to a well-established family of Flame Keepers, a group of trusted individuals whose job is to protect ancient magical books from forces of dark magic. That is where this book first shines: Everest's world-building is really unique and has relatively good execution, though I felt that the book could have been fleshed out in at least one hundred more pages, to allow the elements of this magical world to unfold more naturally. Archie soon moves in with his eccentric aunt, uncle, and two cousins, who introduce him to this strange new world. His extended family make up my favorite characters in this story: an aunt who paints the entire house shades of purple and bakes cakes with sardines as her secret ingredient, an uncle who always greets others with "What-ho!", and two cousins that are intelligent, fearless, and unfailingly loyal to Archie throughout the trials of the book. As Archie settles into his new role of apprentice, things start to happen at the Museum of Magical Miscellany, the place where all of the magical texts are kept safely tucked away. As secrets unfold, Archie comes to find that he plays a much large role in the future of the museum-- and of magic. Though I did enjoy the story (and managed to finish it in one sitting), I found myself a bit unimpressed by the level of writing. This book is intended for an 8-12 year-old audience and readers of that age can handle very complex plots and pick up a lot more subtle hints than you might guess. Everest failed in his execution here because he didn't seem to trust his readers to catch on to the big secrets and clues within the plot: it felt as though things were being dumbed-down or blatantly said when they were already obvious to the reader. This disappointed me because many of these obvious observations came from Archie himself, and I felt that his character profile was considerably weakened because of it. In addition to that, there was a lot of straight info-dumping at the beginning of the book. Here was a incredibly intriguing imaginary world, and it was all being explained too quickly for the reader to appreciate. The plot could have been made a bit more complex and secondary characters outside of Archie's family more fleshed out within the span of (at least) one hundred more pages, then this could have become one of my favorite fantasy series for this age group. On the author blurb, Everest mentions that he found writing a children's book to be difficult and that this one "almost killed" him, and I think that struggle is evident in the way that the book fell a little flat. However, despite all of that I will continue to follow the series (no word yet on the next one), as I am always keeping an eye out for books with male protagonists for my classroom library. I feel that I could recommend this to my students as a rather easy read with the hope that the premise will come through more naturally in the next installment.
Bottom Line Rating: 3/5
Recommended for readers age 8-12 (Grade 3-7)
Title: Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret'
Author: D. D. Everest
Publisher: Harper Collins 2014
Price: $11.39 from Amazon
Source: Public Library