Review: The Wrong Side of Magic by Janette Rallison

Thursday, August 4, 2016
Title: The Wrong Side of Magic
Author: Janette Rallison
Genres: MG, Fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Published: Expected August 23rd 2016
Source: ARC via Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Phantom Tollbooth gets a modern-day spin in this magical middle grade fantasy filled with adventure and humor that will whisk readers away!

Hudson Brown stopped believing in magic long ago. That is, until the day he is whisked away to the magical land of Logos by a curious compass given to him by his off-beat neighbor, Charlotte.

Hudson discovers that Logos is a land ruled by words, thoughts, and memories. A fairy might ferry you across the river for the price of one memory. But be sure to look out for snarky unicorns, as they will see through those who are not pure of heart.

Not understanding the many rules of Logos, Hudson is quickly saddled with a troll curse. Charlotte, who, along with her father, was banished from Logos, can help get rid of the curse--but only if he agrees to find the lost Princess of Logos in return.

Janette Rallison and I have something in common; I too love The Phantom Tollbooth. It's one of my first "reader" experiences and the joy of reading and rereading the puns and wordplay has very much to do with the person I grew into. I do feel as if marketing may do this book a disservice. It's inspired by Norton Juster's classic. I might even go so far as to call it a spiritual successor. But it is not TPT. We are not returning to the Kingdom of Wisdom. You will find no Azaz or Mathemagician and though we're searching for a missing princess, Rhyme and Reason are only parts of the lost Land of Scholars. I don't wish to take anything away from TWSoM- you can see my five stars up there - merely clearing up a misconception based on the blurb.

On the plus side, Hudson is no where near the apathetic little shit Milo was. He's a pre-teen boy who feels a little stuck between friend groups and being the man of the house while his dad's deployed, so, not the easiest main character in history, but the weight that got Milo stuck in the Doldrums is gratefully missing. His foil, Charlotte, reminds me a lot of Luna Lovegood. She's dreamy and absolutely without guile, which makes her a poor fit for Hudson's Earth, but a perfect fit for literal Logos.

Speaking of, the magical kingdom of Logos feels a lot smaller than The Kingdom of Wisdom. I think a lot of that is because while Juster focused on math and words and their intersection, Rallison has chosen to focus entirely on words. There's also a fair amount of retracing of steps, which again, makes the world smaller. The world is very magical, though, with trolls and mermaids, unicorns and fairies. There's an evil wizard who tracks the heroes with blood hounds (they're made of blood). A dastardly king and a stolen princess. It's structure isn't what's innovative, but the way everything is implemented is.

But the words. Oh the words. The riddle to find the princess is solvable, but not so easy as to bore young readers. There is a scene where Charlotte is looking for a fresh-baked word for them to split. Hudson wants to choose the longest, so there's more to eat, but Charlotte points out that if you split something like "succulent", "succu" isn't going to taste very nice, and "lent" won't be much better. You can't get "to enjoy", because everyone knows not to split an infinitive. (They end up with readjust, by the way. "Read" is "butter, sweet, and a bit mysterious". He longs for that good read many times later on.) My favorite part is the Land of Backwords, where everything is wordplay, including the animals. Beware the thesaurus or a stampede of encyclopedias.

My only problem with The Wrong Side of Magic is the end keeps going. The kingdom is saved! It's time for Hudson to return to his every day life. Friends say goodbye and ... oops, we forgot we need to go back to the Cliff of Faces and pay for knowledge earned. Ok. More goodbyes. Time to go for real. Back to the real world and ... a subplot about two foot long cockroaches. And then a confrontation with bullies we haven't seen in 300 pages. And a letter to the princess with some more goodbyes. It took away the impact of the natural stopping point.

Other than one small quibble, the book and story are lovely and special. The morals aren't heavy handed, but natural and have to be earned by reader and character. It's funny and begs to be savored. There's no way to know if TWSoM will be a classic like its inspiration, but I've already mailed my copy off to a fifth grade classroom to spread the magic just in case. We can all use a good read sometimes.

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