Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: The Inquisitor's Apprentice

I loved Chris Moriarty's Spin State, Spin Control, and Ghost Spin, so when I saw that she'd written a series of young adult books starting with The Inquisitor's Apprentice, I didn't hesitate to check them out from the library.

The Inquisitor's Apprentice is set in an alternative history turn of the century New York City. Those were heady times, and historical figures such as J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, Harry Houdini, and Teddy Roosevelt perform more than just cameo appearances in the novel, lending the novel a lovely "I've been there" feel.

The story's told from the view of Sacha, a 1st generation Jewish immigrant living in the tenements with his parents, who've escaped from Russia and lived through a harrowing past. Sacha discovers that he can see magic performed, and is then conscripted into being an Inquisitor's apprentice.

In this version of New York, magic is real (and everyone knows it), but is illegal, and an Inquisitor is a special department of the police force charged with policing the use of magic and the investigation thereof. Sacha's apprenticed to Inquisitor Wolf, one of the most prominent investigators of the era, and is swept up in a plot apparently intended to end the life of Thomas Edison.

This was an incredibly promising premise to the novel, and had me very excited to read it. The description of turn of century New York is awesome, and Moriarty's description of Jewish culture (especially that of Russian immigrants in New York) is authentic and feels real. The introduction of Jewish mythic elements in the form of the dybbuk, and integration into various pieces of city paraphernalia such as the rag and bone man and china town is well done and taps into your imagination.

Yet the novel falls flat. The protagonist, Sacha, is weak-willed and lily-livered. Rather than taking action, he's dragged into one event after another by his mentor, his friends, and his colleagues. He lacks common-sense, and has no self-control over his emotions. He's a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist, and unfortunately, I don't think it was intentional on Moriarty's part. I think she bent over backwards to make a heroine out of Sacha's cohort intern, Lily Astral, not realizing that she'd weakened her protagonist to the point of unlikeability.

The resolution of the novel is also incomplete, obviously setting up for the next novel in the series. I cannot recommend this novel over any of Moriarty's other novels, so I'm not sure I'd get around to reading The Watcher in The Shadows.

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