Last year, Amazon Vine sent me Young Houdini: The Magician’s Fire by Simon Nicholson to review. It is a fictionalised version of the story of Harry Houdini, and posits that he started off as a kind of child detective, along with two friends he picks up on his travels, and the scrapes they get into together form the basis of his adult life and the tricks he performs.
It is a clever conceit, and I was interested to see how the author would develop it, so when I was offered: Young Houdini: The Demon Curse, the second in the series which starts exactly where the last story finished, I accepted the offer to review it from Amazon Vine.
I confess that I did not enjoy this one as much. The first story, in my opinion, had better structure. This one seemed more chaotic and less sure of where it was going. It was, at times, rather confusing to me, as if the author had written more, but edited out chunks of the story, and I found myself reading back to figure out if I’d missed something. Having said that, I don’t know whether the age group the book is aimed at will notice this.
In this story, Harry and his friends find themselves in New Orleans where a terrible travesty of justice is about to be played out, and the mayor seems possessed by a demon curse that townsfolk are being encouraged to blame on local fisher people and their voodoo ways.
The story has some quite violent episodes, a lot of rip roaring adventure, and a series of situations in which Harry is forced to use his wit and dexterity to get himself and his friends out of some certain death situations. The characters don’t develop hugely, as the action is at the forefront, and I would have liked a bit more flesh on the bones of Harry’s companions if I’m honest. They struck me, in this book as rather surplus to needs, and merely acting as plot devices, whereas in the last book they were much more interesting.
The book ricochets between a simple, pared down story telling style and some complex phrases, words and ideas that don’t sit terribly well together, and if you are reading this with a child you may have to fill in some of the gaps. If a child is independently reading this in your care, it might be good to check in to find out if they understand everything they are reading so that you can get a feel for if they’re really enjoying the story.
I think this needed to be a longer book, for older children, something along the lines of Charlie Hinson’s Young Bond series, or Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. It has the potential, and the short format and age group the book is aimed at (7-11 I would say) doesn’t do it full justice, which is a shame.