In this third instalment of The Midnight Chronicles, Neil Trigger does something very different indeed. If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that one of the most inviting aspects of the series, is its main protagonist, Bethany, who discovers a magical floating city in the clouds. A city no less that has cheese-spewing dragons, candy floss lamb-posts and magical ink that helps pick you a wand. Imagine then, my surprise in discovering that Bethany does not appear at all in here. She gets a mention or two, but that’s not the same is it?
In The Wizard’s Reflection, we follow Orphan, who is in all intents and purposes, an orphan. But strangely, every year, on his birthday, Orphan receives a gift at the foot of his bed. On his eleventh birthday however, he receives even more than just a random gift, as two weird adults knock on the door to the orphanage and whisk him away to a new home. This is not a happy tale though, one with a happy ever after. This is a magical adventure of Orphan discovering the true intentions of ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’. And to make matters worse, he is pulled into a magical mirror, only for the reflection to step out.
Despite my early worries, I was really won over by Orphan, who is a charming and adventurous young man. He is very readable, funny and his inquisitive nature serves as the basis for the discoveries he makes. He even rivals Bethany’s place in my opinion. But what is interesting is how successful the shift in protagonist really is. It really opens the series up, allowing for the world of Strataton (the magical city in the sky) to expand. It opens up more questions as well as giving the series a new lease of life and more layers of depth. Although Bethany is appealing to all children, I think Orphan easily appeals to younger boys more, which opens up the book (and its predecessors) to a larger audience.
Neil Trigger’s surreal and creative imagination is on form again in this book. I just really like his imagery and sense of wit. In my reviews for the two previous books, I’ve compared him to the likes of Roald Dahl, which I still feel is true. Strataton and indeed the whole Midnight Chronicles universe is colourful, weird and exciting. And I think that is the perfect balance of everything good in the fantasy genre that will stay with the children who read it.
One of my criticisms of the previous novel, The Mobile Monster Zoo, although full of imagination, I found parts quite formulaic. Thankfully, The Wizard’s Reflection is much improved, with the storyline continually being thrown from one thing to another. Golems, magical entities, talking gnomes, time travel, multiple realities ….. extremely complicated stuff, but perfectly told so its audience can understand it. I mean Orphan is yet to learn to ways of the magical world, which means we learn along with Orphan, strengthening our bond along the way. I feel this instalment is a braver attempt and it works brilliantly. I would even go as far as to say that the bizarre happenings and strange inhabitants rival those of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Although this is very much for children.
It’s nice to see a few of the previous books’ characters make an appearance in here, touching down with Orphan so as he doesn’t get lead astray. Importantly though, I think it is worth mentioning that Trigger has a big respect for his audience. I’ve read many children’s books, which wrap them up in bubblewrap and neatly tie everything off with a bow. Not in here! The Wizard’s Reflection has action, fights, magical explosions, blood, essences of evil; all which command the reader’s attention. The great thing about the fantasy genre is that you can deliver more severe characters that have evil intentions and get away with it. Children aren’t stupid, they know they are reading (or being read) something made up. The character of Mr Midnight makes more of an appearance in this adventure and he makes a wonderful adversary.
Sometimes, you can’t help but wonder what Bethany has been up to, but then again, this isn’t Bethany’s story, it’s Orphan’s. I felt that this book had a much larger plan to it, meaning that this series has more to offer yet! At the end of the book, you do in fact get a sneak peek at the next instalment entitled The War of the Elders. I do have to say though that before this gets a release, the author should send me an advanced copy so I can ring the errors in bright red pen. As an author myself, it is so hard to see your own errors, but a new set of eyes can easily spot them. There aren’t too many in here but when you read sentences: “Orphan to thought himself.” you can get the idea. And this isn’t a series that should be thwart with errors as it is an extremely enjoyable series.
The Wizard’s Reflection is a stepup from its two predecessors as it is more explosive, more interesting and more dangerous. Orphan is a fantastic main character, one who isn’t perfect, one who has had to get by in life, but one that has the potential to grow and become so much more. The storyline is more intense, more surreal and therefore demands your attention. Neil Trigger is just as inventive and wacky as ever. In fact, on the back of the book it says: ‘With wizards, broomsticks and a barrel of time-travelling tortoises, the third book in The Midnight Chronicles series is just as original as the first.’ I would argue that, as much as I loved The Weird Case of Mrs Etherington-Strange, this is even more original. If your children love a bit of fantasy, then look no further for a most enjoyable series.
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