Monday, April 16, 2012

Review - "The Apothecary"

There are different kinds of magic.  There’s the kind of magic that does outlandish things, like disappearing the Tower of London or turning a pumpkin into a carriage, and there’s the kind of magic that, if you squint your eyes and turn your head, just might be possible, like becoming invisible.  Maile Meloy’s The Apothecary deals with both, and handles both with keenness and care.
 Janie Scott was uprooted from her life in Hollywood when her parents decided to move to London to escape the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Once in the UK, Janie becomes mixed up with a boy from her new school, Benjamin, and the secrets his father holds as an Apothecary.  These magical secrets lead Janie and Benjamin and their friend Pip into the center of a worldwide intrigue that may direct them to the most dangerous place of all. 
 The Apothecary is a weird hybrid of historical novel and fantasy, each genre getting a bit of the spotlight.  It’s a little like a John LeCarre spy novel getting mixed up with J.K. Rowling.  The details of a 1952 world, a world still smarting from the wounds of World War II and plunging headlong into the Cold War, are wonderfully drawn.  There’s the bombed out streets of London, duck and cover drills and food rationing.  But then there’s also the alchemical magic, pills that forbid you to speak, elixirs that turn you into a pile of salt and other wondrous things.  It’s a weird marriage, but Meloy makes it work. 
 Story is really the star here, but the characters are intriguing as well.  Janie is sharp and relatable, and hardly ever veers into annoying teenage habits (there’s quite of a bit of running around without her parents knowing about it, which I would classify as an annoying teenage habit, though one necessitated by the plot – I suppose I just felt bad for her parents).  Pip, a mid-20th century Artful Dodger, is slick and fast on his feet, and yes, a little contrived, but I enjoyed him.  I could have done with a little more oomph from the villain of the piece, but that is a minor quibble.  On the whole, I quite enjoyed Meloy’s genre twisting experiment, and I look forward to seeing what else she can come up with for a young audience.
 The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
2011, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Library copy

No comments:

Post a Comment