Rachel Sneyd goes on a magic mystery ride with a boy named Bert and, amongst other things, some dangerous air pirates in The Boy Who Went Magic. Let’s see if she survived to tell the tale …
There’s no more magic in Penvellyn, or so the government claims. Surrounded by the ruins of the magical societies that used to fight against them, the country’s citizens scoff at the idea that wizards and mages once thought they were a match for Penvellyn’s superior technology.
Bert was abandoned at a dreary boarding school as a child, and grew up with no memories of his parents or his life before he arrived there. The other students sense that there’s something unsavoury about him, and a trip to a museum of supposedly obsolete magical objects proves them right.
An enchanted mirror mysteriously activates in Bert’s presence, setting in motion a chain of events that sees him befriending a notorious pirate thief, a dangerously powerful ancient spirit, and a thrill-seeking girl with metal legs. When the secretive Prince Voss takes an ominous interest in Bert’s abilities, he must flee from his cloistered life at school and ally with fellow outlaws in order to protect his new friends and learn the truth about his country’s history.
The mythology and history of the world that A.P. Winter has created are extremely complex, but the details are built so gradually, and with such confidence, that readers will be fully immersed before they know it. It takes some time for Bert to decide to go on the run, but once he does the story moves rapidly from a daring bank heist, to a tower prison, to a pirate airship, to a shown-down in a crumbling castle in the clouds. Each new location is beautifully realised, and each action set piece is expertly crafted.
Sometimes character detail is the price paid for such intricate world-building, but that is emphatically not the case here. Everyone has a compelling backstory, and these backstories intersect in interesting ways. The book has two great twists, both of which are satisfying not just because of how they move the plot along, but because of how they challenge Bert and force him to grow as a person.
“Sometimes character detail is the price paid for such intricate world-building, but that is emphatically not the case here.”
A quirky, delightfully irreverent steampunk adventure that raises interesting questions about censorship, power, and the human tendency to fear what we don’t understand. I’d love to see more stories set in this world, not only to spend more time with these characters, but also to learn more about the ancient civilisations that Winter gives us such tantalising glimpses of.