Sunday, May 01, 2011

Hooper's House of the Magician: A Satisfactory Experiment.

Hooper, Mary. At the House of the Magician. Bloomsbury, 2010 reprint.

I've always believed that a good novel for children is perhaps the most difficult challenge any author might face, and I tend to judge these novels perhaps even more harshly than their adult counterparts. At the House of the Magician, therefore, is a good book. Unfortunately, it is not a great book.

Hooper's protagonist Lucy is a young girl in Elizabethan England who leaves home after a fight with her father and ends up working as a servant for John Dee, whose career will be familiar to most scholars of the early modern period but has been mostly forgotten by the general populace. Lucy befriends the queen's favourite jester and is called upon to assist her master with some alchemical and pseudo-supernatural tasks. Hooper portrays a fairly realistic Elizabethan England, and her story moves apace; where the diligence of her research and the depth of her characters is lost is in her introduction of prophetic dreams and the supernatural. Although the afterlife and the supernatural were subjects of great debate during the lifetimes of Dee and Elizabeth I, Hooper's handling of these subjects lacks the literary grace of her domestic and historical scenes. This is a good book, and little girls who are interested in the early modern period should enjoy it immensely. Hooper's writing is clear and often elegant, but the novel itself is not exceptional. I look forward to seeing more of Mary Hooper's work as she matures as a writer.

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