The Wizards of Once, by Cressida Cowell

The Wizards of Once, by Cressida Cowell book coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published: 2017
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Reviewer:  SJ Higbeee

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Those of you who are regular visitors to this blog will know that I am continually banging on about how much I love the How To Train Your Dragon books – so when I saw Cowell had written a new series, it was a no-brainer that I would request it. It cheered me up no end when I was approved for this one…

Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests. Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn’t, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he’s got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods. Xar doesn’t realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish. And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.

My rather elderly Kindle did not handle Cowell’s trademark illustrations very well and I needed to persevere to pick out the text within the rather hinky formatting. However, I refused to be put off though it took me a little longer to get into the story than I had expected, simply because Xar is fairly obnoxious at the beginning – though as the narrative progressed, it became increasingly obvious why he is such a pain and I grew to like and sympathize with him.

This book is clearly aimed at an older age-group than the How To Train Your Dragon series, and consequently lacks the can-do chirpiness that runs throughout HTTYD no matter what is going on. The language is also richer, full of poetic metaphors and although the adventure is full of incident and unexpected developments that are the hallmark of a Cowell story, the issues are more nuanced. Neither Wish or Xar are all bad or all good and I particularly liked the way the adults are portrayed.

Very often in children’s literature, adults are either bullying buffoons or simply oblivious. It’s relatively rare to see an adult with a significant back-story and an interesting hidden agenda, yet both parents in this book first appear as typically black and white authority figures, only to later develop into something far more intriguing. I shall be very interested to see how they develop in due course.

All in all, this is a joy. I shall be reading it aloud to my granddaughter as a break from the Louis the Laugh series – after I’ve bought the print copy. And I have included the poem at the back of the book as something of a treat – I recommend you read it aloud…

Wandering Free
In the roads of sky and paths of sea
And in that timeless long-gone hour
Words of nonsense still had power
Doors still flew and birds still talked
Witches grinned and giants walked
We had Magic wands and Magic wings
And we lost our hearts to impossible things
Unbelievable thoughts! Unsensible ends!
For Wizards and Warriors might be friends.
In a world where impossible things are true
I don’t why we forgot the spell
When we lost the way, how the forests fell.
But now we are old, we can vanish too.
And I see once more the invisible track
That will lead us home and take us back…
So find your wands and spread your wings
I’ll sing our love of impossible things
And when you take my vanished hand
We’ll both go back to that Magic land
Where we lost our hearts…
Several lifetimes ago…
When we were Wizards
Once.

While I obtained the arc of The Wizards of Once from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.

SJ Higbee

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