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Magnolia in Ilium
Twelve-year-old Magnolia Bannister is quite content living on her parent's magical showboat, the Theodora, a vessel that transports magicians to all points of the compass. Her world is perfect, up until the moment her parents decide to go and do something dumb, like enrolling her in a boarding school for magician children in the city of Ilium.Feeling betrayed, Magnolia plots to run away, but then changes her mind when she meets a three-hundred-year-old magician who gives her a special ring and tells her that "things won't go so well" in her future if she doesn't accept it.And soon, Magnolia finds herself caught up in a madcap adventure at Gryndells when her roommate (whose pet hedgehog is not what it seems) starts acting strange and then disappears. Together with three classmates who are eager to help her solve the mystery behind five missing students and five missing dragon teeth, Magnolia is catapulted into an adventure that will change her life forever.
Reviews
In Jenkinson’s magic school adventure, twelve-year-old Magnolia Bannister lives in the quirky, well-thought-out world of Faraway on her parents’ magical steamboat, the Theodora, with her mother, Dorothea, her father, Beauregard, and her parrot, Joe. Magnolia’s is an idyllic life, so when her parents suddenly insist that she go to Gryndells, a magic school in the fantastical city of Ilium, Magnolia is less than thrilled. Eccentric Magnolia tries to settle into her surroundings, with its strange roommates, attentive boys, and odd professors--but when one of her roommates, Moira, goes missing, Magnolia believes she was chosen to find her and sets off to do just that, putting her place at Gryndells in jeopardy.

Ultimately, this romp is a bit of a mixed bag. Though the constant shifts from Magnolia’s point of view allow for some of the funniest moments, they rob readers of the chance to see how Magnolia interprets key relationships and moments. Magnolia’s school term is fun, with wondrous creatures and an inventive magic system, but it’s not until halfway through the story, already somewhat long for a middle grade title, that Magnolia’s mission truly begins. When the game’s at last afoot, characters offer Magnolia and her crew answers quite easily, sometimes out of the blue, making it so they don’t so much solve as stumble their way through their quest.

But, if anyone can stumble through a quest, it’s Magnolia--she’s empathetic, confident, and impulsive, the perfect protagonist for this wholly original world. And it’s a well-built world at that, one that feels lived in by virtue of its history, lore, and geography. As an added bonus, the vocabulary is just advanced enough to teach young readers some new words, and the old-fashioned imagery lends charm. Living up to his promise, Jenkinson’s first entry in this series is different, entertaining, and amusing, despite its occasional lack of focus.

Takeaway: Fans of middle grade magic school mysteries will find a lot to enjoy in Magnolia’s quest, especially if they don’t mind taking their time.

Great for fans of: Natasha Lowe’s The Power of Poppy Pendle, Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: C+
Marketing copy: B

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