Nick Mohammed is a British actor and comedian, now turned writer. But despite similarities, he’s no David Walliams. He’s also a somewhat snarky narrator of his story, perhaps attempting to channel Lemony Snicket. Alas, I found these narrations a distraction in what was otherwise a fast-paced heist-style romp.
The main gang of four are wanna-be magicians. Not the Harry Potter kind, but genuine prestidigitators, practitioners of the trick shuffle, and students of misdirection. It is their dream to join the illustrious Magic Circle. However, their hopes are foiled by the rather close-minded Circle President; their wily ways and lack of respect for the (admittedly rather weak) authority and (ridiculously confining) rules, all acting against them.
The quartet of heroes are lead by Zack. Somewhat rebellious, but skilled at the magical arts, Zack has already been expelled from the Circle once. Towering over him is Jonny, whose claim to fame is his grandfather – a skilled magician who taught him the tools of the trade. Then we have Sophie, hypnotist extraordinaire – and, finally, we have Alex. Alex is the one that I found easiest to identify with: awkward and nervous, but with hidden talents. The children work well together, their skills complementing each other neatly. However, they have some pretty difficult (and rather crazy) challenges.
Firstly, the Thieves’ Almanac has been stolen. It looks like Zack’s the culprit, but he denies all knowledge. And some dastardly thieves are using it: first in an elaborate plot to steal from the Bank, and then to steal the Crown Jewels. The latter encourages our quartet of heroes, the self-named Young Magicians to conceive an elaborate solution to save the day.
There’s lots of adventure, mysterious noises, madcap antics and a ridiculous scheme, guaranteed to entertain the younger reader. However, the constant narratorial insertions head off on a tangent, disrupt the flow and distract from the main plot, turning it into a somewhat extended read – especially if one were to attempt to read it aloud.
For a first novel, it’s fun and has potential, but Mohammed is certainly not the next Roald Dahl. For lovers of magic, there’s some insight into the process, including appendices containing a super-simple “trick” you might be able to try at home and an explanation of the “Any Card at Any Number” trick (warning: it’s written in science-speech).
Reviewed by Angela Oliver
Young Magicians and the Thieves’ Almanac
by Nick Mohammed
Published by Puffin