Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass, Book 1
written by: Erica Kirov
published by: Jabberwocky/Sourcebooks, 2009
Audience (reading level): 8 to 12 (2.5)
It is probably no surprise to anyone that I am an English major. What may surprise you, though, is that one of my favorite classes in college was A History of the Soviet Union. [This was 1981, y’all!] We had the usual dates to memorize, but what made this class so memorable, was that Dr. Harris taught history as a story. Russian history — pre-Lenin, pre-Stalin — is pretty fascinating stuff. That stuff — from Faberge eggs to the last Romanov — is woven into this story by debut author Erica Kirov. I have no doubt that Dr. Harris would enjoy Magickeepers!
As the story opens, the first person we meet is not our hero, Nick Rostov, but Harry Houdini. It is 1926 and Houdini has just finished what will be one of his last shows. Eight days after the performance, he is dead.
Fast-forward to 2009 and meet Nick Rostov. Nick lives with his father at the Pendragon Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dad is a magician of no talent and old jokes, but their suite is a perk of the job and it keeps them off the streets – for now. When we meet Nick he isn’t particularly happy with life: he hates his father’s jokes as much as the audience; most of his “friends” are tourists who stay at the hotel and are gone in a week; he just got his report card … it’s not a pretty picture; he turns 13 tomorrow, without a party; and he misses his mom, who died when he was an infant.
No one talks about her or how she died. His father is still heartbroken after all these years. Nick’s only connection to her is his grandfather, who seems to be always at odds with his dad. For his birthday, Nick’s grandfather takes him out to dinner. But before they go to Grandpa’s favorite all-you-can-eat buffet, they visit Madame Bogdonovich’s Magical Curiosity Shoppe.
Nick is more than impatient, but stops in his track when Madame B. reveals his special talent: he can see into a crystal ball. At dinner, Grandpa tells him that his mother had a similar gift, and that he is part of a bloodline that goes back to ancient Egypt. He also gives him a special gift: something that belonged to his mother.
This is where the story really takes off. Through the power of magic, Nicholai Rostov is transported to the Winter Palace Casino and hotel. This is not the Pendragon. It is luxurious, almost regal. It is the home of Nick’s maternal family, and, according to his grandfather, the only place where he can be protected from evil.
Nick is more than a little skeptical. He didn’t know he had family in Las Vegas, much less the world’s most famous magician Damian (his cousin). Nick thought all of the talk about magicians v. illusionists, Russian tradition, and magic relics was hogwash. But when the Shadows tried to kidnap him and he almost drowns, he decides that maybe he better pay attention.
As the core of the adventure unfolds, the author seamlessly blends facts and folklore of Russian history and historical figures in the world of magic, with her modern-day story.
The job of teaching Nick about family history falls to Damian’s brother Theo. Through Theo and by watching Nick develop his skills as a Gazer, we meet other historical figures. Although Nick doesn’t travel back in time, he takes us there by what he sees:
- We see an exchange between Jules Verne and Harry Houdini in Paris, 1900.
- We see how Houdini dies at Detroit’s Grace Hospital in October 1926.
- We listen as the Grand Duchess tells him about life in the Winter Palace.
- We hear about, then meet the infamous Rasputin.
In moving through the story, it is hard to see where facts end and fiction begins. When it came to Russian history, that was somewhat easier for me to discern; but I can’t be completely sure. With Houdini, I have no points of reference, but now I’m curious and want to learn more.
This is part of what makes this a great book for me. It is fiction – close to pure fiction – and yet it piques an interest in something new.
I’m not usually a fan of debut books that include the word “series,” but I confess I’m fascinated by the potential of this one. There is a short excerpt for story at the end of this book. It is a chilly night in Philadelphia, 1844. Miranda, a raven, visits Edgar Allen Poe, who is suffering writer’s block. In exchange for a future promise to “hold something for safekeeping,” the raven will help Poe write a poem. The idea of weaving historical figures – and sparking kids’ interest in them – intriques me. It’s not a new literary device, but when done well the odds of creating a lifelong reader go up exponentially.
Readers of all abilities will find the book enjoyable. Because it is sprinkled with mystery from beginning to end, it will also be a fast read. The story is filled with action, but not so overwhelming that it will discourage reluctant or remedial readers. With a 2.5 readability level it has great potential as a high/low book for middle-grade students.
This is an excellent choice for summer reading or in the fall for readers who need to get excited about reading again after a long vacation.