The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman is a book I could not wait to read. The cover, synopsis, and praise it received seemed to make it a perfect fit for me. And it was. I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon I spent reading this book. It has a magical bookshop. A MAGICAL BOOKSHOP.
Nick runs away from his abusive uncle and cousin after years living with them following his mother's death. He is not exactly prepared for his escape and finds himself cold, hungry, and in search of shelter during a snow storm. He happens upon the home and bookshop of the Evil Wizard Smallbone. When Nick lies to Smallbone about his ability to read, Smallbone agrees to feed him and take him on as an apprentice. Nick's first job is to clean the dirty bookshop. In doing so Nick begins to learn magic as the bookshop gives him the books he needs to help him on his way. And Nick will need all the magic he can find. The sentries that have guarded the village of Smallbone and protected them from the wizard's nemesis and his cohort of werecoyote bikers are failing. The villagers are terrified and even Smallbone seems at a loss as to how to save the town or himself.
Nick is pretty much everything I adore in a main character: snarky, independent, outwardly lazy, super smart and motivated about what he cares about. He's the total package. Smallbone is the perfect complement to him. These two have excellent banter and a relationship that is coated in surly sniping but deep down they come to care for each other in their own ways. The animals that live in the house with them also have their own distinct personalities as does the bookshop itself. There are several villagers from the town Smallbone created who add a lot to the story as well. The villain is actually rather terrifying and I honestly wondered how he was going to be defeated in the end a couple of times. When you add the very real world sort of danger of Nick's uncle and cousin, there was a lot of true evil (not the Smallbone kind) to overcome. It made for an engrossing read that was difficult to put down.
The world Sherman created for her story is fascinating. Both the bookshop and the village are brought to life by her imagery and the descriptions of the interactions of the people within them. I am impressed by how well she was able to render a sense of place and character together through these interactions, especially in the case of the bookshop where the animals far outnumbered the humans. The bookshop helped Nick and the books communicated with him in their own delightful ways. The villagers interactions with each other, Nick, and Smallbone paint a clear picture of what the place is like and Sherman's imagery made it a clear place in my mind.
This is one of those plots where the curiosity and stubbornness of children win the day. The reason these stories keep being published is because they work so incredibly well and leave children with a sense of empowerment. Nick's story will definitely leave kids feeling empowered. I appreciated how even though Nick was a loner he ended with a strong group of people he could count on when he needed them. I also like how Sherman brought themes of the importance of community and emotional ties.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone is a great addition to the collection of anyone who loves fantasy!