Premise: Harry Houdini and his two best friends are starting to command a crowd for their escape acts. All's well until Harry's elderly mentor, Herbie, disappears in a cloud of purple smoke. Certain that Herbie is in danger, Harry is determined to find and rescue him even if it means risking his own life.
Author: Simon Nicholson
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Series or Stand alone: Book 1 of a new series, Young Houdini
Content appropriate for: Grades 3-6
Format: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Three adjectives that describe this book: mysterious, exciting, dangerous
I wasn't expecting much out of this book. While the cover is exciting, there's something about it that seems kind of predictable. But I was still looking forward to reading it because year after year, my 5th graders love Harry Houdini.
Shortly into The Magician's Fire I was proven wrong. This book is fun, fast-paced, and well-written. Populated with magic tricks, illusions, sneaky villains, and death defying escapes, it was a really fun read.
The level of character development (quite a bit for 3 primary and 2 secondary characters) and plot complexity (one straightforward tale with some twists) makes it a great selection for the middle grades. The use of the iconic figure of Harry Houdini will also make it a grabber for less-confident readers.
Historical Fiction can be challenging for middle graders, but historic New York City was painted in clear details that made for a great backdrop.
My only complaint is that I kept wondering how much of young Harry's story was based on fact. An author's note to this effect would have been a great addition.
* Excellent post by Simon Nicholson about his inspiration to write this book
* The Magician's Fire website with educator guide and excerpt