Conjuror – John & Carole E. Barrowman

When I saw “John Barrowman”, I clicked request. Then I read the description. It’s a book by John Barrowman (and Carole E. Barrowman, his big sister, with whom I didn’t realize he’s written several books before besides his memoirs – where have I been?)

Honestly, and I truly mean no offense to anyone, I’m getting really tired of opening up a book’s description and seeing “Janie was sixteen” and “At sixteen, Mary knew she was special” and “On Jackie’s sixteenth birthday her life changed” and so on. I suppose the window for a Young Adult audience is pretty narrow, but there are so many sixteen year olds out there… In Conjuror, the three main characters are seventeen. Point to the Barrowmans. (She said sarcastically.)

That being said, I enjoyed the three young protagonists. Conjuror Remy is the first on the scene, a young man who has only just discovered his abilities to mold reality with music, fleeing from the horrific murders of his mother and aunt to try to fulfill the mission his mother was never able to see through. Unfortunately, his youth and inexperience combine with the sad reality of prejudice, and his general appearance along with his necessary actions to send him on the run again, and his disappearance into a statue of Shakespeare draws the attention of Orion, “the Animare MI5”. As a conjuror can use music, animares use art to create and travel, and twins Matt and Em Calder are young prodigies sent through a painting to assess the situation. Unfortunately, it turns into a great deal more than an assessment, and soon all three kids are in deep trouble.

While I credit the Barrowmans for an excellent job at putting the story over, I do with there had been just a smidge more exposition. In addition to bringing to life what they draw, he animares enter paintings, interact with the subjects, discover that instruments are being stolen from the subjects, and leave a man (a rather surprising man) prisoner in one artwork; they are described as stepping out into museums brushing flakes of paint off their clothing, and that made me shudder a little. The idea of paint being carried away from something like a Vermeer is a terrible one; I’d have loved a little more reassurance that there’s no damage to paintings used in this way. And I’d have loved to have learned whether that prisoner would ever be visible in the painting; whether the missing instruments left blank spots in the paintings (plain canvas or underpainting, or spaces where the background was visible, as if the objects had never been included at all?), and a few other details of the system of magic. No, a lot more details. Apparently the twins were featured in earlier books – which explains a lot, hopefully.

There are some very effective – by which I mean really gross – horror scenes throughout, and the villain of the story is effectively alarming. Setting is nicely done, from Remy’s home in New Orleans (New Orleans?) to Edinborough. The characterization for the three kids in the middle of it all is nicely done. I enjoyed the casual knowledge of art (and, unsurprisingly, music) that allowed that system of magic. I did not enjoy the occasional not-so-subtle glimpse of what I take to be authorial opinion (“‘That’s terrible,’ said Em. ‘The Church has done a lot of nasty stuff.'”).

But I absolutely loved the Doctor Who reference(s).

I look forward to more.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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