MAGICALAMITY, a gentle and humorous British fantasy, explores what happens when a boy finds out he's half fairy --- and when he discovers that fairies are nothing like what he'd ever imagined.
Eleven-year-old Tom Harding is never allowed to sleep until almost noon; when he wakes up at 11 o'clock on a weekday, that's his first clue that something out of the normal has occurred. His second is when he goes into the kitchen and finds a large, disheveled woman rummaging through his refrigerator. The woman, who's named Lorna Mustard, explains that she's one of Tom's three godmothers.
"Kate Saunders plays wittily both with readers' expectations and with plenty of other specific fairy tale plots and characters."
Not just any godmothers, either --- fairy godmothers, since Tom's father is a fairy. By falling in love, marrying and having a child with a mortal woman (Tom's mother), however, Tom's dad is now in big trouble, and he's gone into hiding deep in the fairy realm. As for his mom, she's been transformed into a most unlikely form in order to keep her safe from the threat of kidnapping.
Almost before he knows it, Tom is whisked away on a quest to rescue his father and clear his family name, a quest that will include several ill-tempered fairies, a flying carpet, a mountain hideaway, a long-lost (and sometimes troublesome) cousin and flying lessons, as Tom discovers what it means to be a "demisprite" and what it takes to make a family.
Discovering that one is only half mortal is certainly not a new trope in fantasy literature --- think Percy Jackson and the Olympians, among others --- but Kate Saunders plays wittily both with readers' expectations and with plenty of other specific fairy tale plots and characters. There are allusions to Snow White, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Peter Pan, among many others, and readers who are particularly familiar with fairy tale and fantasy will be especially delighted to see how the story creatively remixes these elements.
Saunders creates a suspenseful story, but one that's never really scary. There are dangers, to be sure, but of the delicious and not truly frightening variety. MAGICALAMITY is a lovely introduction to British fantasy for kids on the cusp of the Harry Potter series or the more irreverent fairy tales of Matt Haig. The fast-paced story, relatively short chapters and family-friendly humor (some of the toilet variety) make this a great bedtime read-aloud that will appeal to adults and to kids of a variety of ages.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 9, 2012