Vandreil: My new favourite author – and she’s Canadian!

Caroline Vandriel discusses her new favourite author R.J. Anderson

Recently, I have been reading books outside my preferred genre, and often work-related non-fiction. It’s like I am back in high school: I’m reading because I have to, not because I want to. Not this time though, and my little brain is so much happier for it. I was making sure everything was in place before the library opened; displays were full and nothing where it shouldn’t be. I scanned the new books in junior section and one caught my eye, A Little Taste of Poison. I picked it up, noted it was the second in a series and made a mental note to find the first. Normally my mental notes dissipate within minutes, if not seconds. This one stuck (recent addition of Ginkgo Biloba to my morning routine?), and I’m happy it did.

The first book in the Uncommon Magic series by R.J. Anderson arrived and I devoured it. A Pocket Full of Murder is the story of twelve-year-old Isaveth who is trying to clear her father of murder. She also has to keep the rest of the family together, as her mother has recently died. There is little money for food and rent, and her younger sisters need new shoes.

Isaveth decides to bake common magic tablets for fire and light to sell, using her mother’s recipes. This brings her into contact with Quiz, a street boy, and Eryx Lording, next in line to be Sagelord and the public’s favorite politician. With the help of Quiz, Isaveth manages to gain access to those in the noble class, political rallies, and the top school in Tarrenton, all in search of clues to help her father.

Tarrenton is a fictional place and time that has two kinds of magic, Common Magic for the lower classes and which Isaveth is gifted in, and Sagery for the upper classes. Not being keen on politics, I had a harder time following that thread of the novel and wondered if it would really appeal to the tweens for whom the novel was written. In the end, I feel that perhaps I underestimate that age group.

I enjoyed A Pocket Full of Murder enough to immediately read A Little Taste of Poison, which I finished in two days. The second book continues where the first leaves off, but with Isaveth winning a scholarship to Tarrenton College, an upper class high school for those of noble birth to learn sagery. Of course, Isaveth does not fit in, due to both class and religion; she’s Moshite, which everyone else in Tarrenton despises. The mystery of the first book continues in the second, leading to a completely unexpected climax. As in, TOTALLY unexpected. Normally by the end of the book I can suss out where it’s going, but I kept looking at the decreasing number of pages yet to read with worry, not knowing how it would end. Brilliant!

The two books were incredibly enjoyable to read. Isaveth is an engaging, multi-dimensional character, as are Quiz and all the other characters. The plotline twists and turns delightfully, and the setting is woven into the fabric of the storyline, being both necessary and well drawn enough to visualize. All in all, a wonderfully intelligent story. I recommend both, in the order they were written, for ages 10 and up, as I think everyone will find something to like. Now I’m researching R.J. Anderson (Canadian!) to find my next read.

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