I really have a thing for fantasies set in worlds that lay alongside ours. The blurring of the edges between what we think of as reality and those magical worlds fascinates me, which is probably why I love the Harry Potter series so much (and why I’m working on a couple of stories with those kinds of worlds myself). The Wizard of Dark Street takes place on Dark Street (oddly enough), a little neighborhood that’s linked to New York City, but is actually a bridge between the normal world and the Land of Faerie. It’s a highly entertaining blend of Harry Potter-esque magic and Holmesian detective work.
Oona Crate is the Dark Street Wizard’s apprentice and niece, but Oona doesn’t want to be the Wizard. She doesn’t even want to use magic anymore, not after the horrid accident. So she and her magical talking raven, Deacon (who’s more of a flying encyclopedia than a regular old bird), snoop around Dark Street, trying to solve mysteries. When a very big mystery involving stolen dresses, missing cobblestones, and her uncle’s apparent murder falls into her lap, Oona hopes she’s not in over her head. She must use all of her detective’s cunning to solve this mystery before she loses her uncle forever, and before the very fabric of Dark Street falls apart.
It’s easy to compare magical young adult literature to Harry Potter, but The Wizard of Dark Street mimics the feel of Rowling’s series, for lack of a more precise term. Odyssey’s way of describing the setting and the characters is very visual and whimsical, and I had no trouble at all picturing the strange world of Dark Street. I particularly like the Victorian setting, and that some of the denizens of Dark Street seem to be far ahead of their time when it comes to fashion (I’m looking at you, Samuligan the faerie who wears a cowboy hat).
Oona herself is a fine young heroine, full of confidence but also realistic enough to be taken down a notch when a snobby girl insults her. Her interactions with Deacon are fun, and I liked seeing her poke and prod her way into places where she’s not supposed to go. Her tenacity in trying to save her uncle and solve the mystery makes her into a really great young protagonist. She runs into many people who are trying to stop her from finding out the truth, but her quick wits and her pet encyclopedia raven help her along the way. I liked Oona immensely, and I really hope that Odyssey writes more books about this awesome young detective.
The other characters are quirky and fun, if not quite as well-rounded as Oona, but hopefully there will be future books that flesh out the others a little bit more. The mystery itself has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end, and a few red herrings are thrown in to keep you on your toes. I had figured out part of the mystery by the end, but I was nicely surprised by one of the final twists.
Overall, The Wizard of Dark Street is a fun, creatively imagined young adult book that has a lot going for it. I enjoyed it as an adult reader, and I can definitely see how kids would dig it, too.