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.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B