The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

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Title: The Evil Wizard Smallbone
Author: Delia Sherman
Release Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 416
Source: Hardcover provided by Penguin Random House Canada
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Overall: 4 STARS

In a hilarious tale reminiscent of T. H. White, a lost boy finds himself an unlikely apprentice to the very old, vaguely evil, mostly just grumpy Wizard Smallbone.

When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. Wildly funny and cozily heartfelt, Delia Sherman’s latest is an eccentric fantasy adventure featuring dueling wizards, enchanted animals, and one stray boy with a surprising knack for magic.

If you love Studio Ghibli films like Howl's Moving Castle or Spirited Away, I definitely recommend giving Delia Sherman's The Evil Wizard Smallbone a chance. This book is so charming and heartfelt, brimming with magic and a cast of peculiar characters. I would read a few chapters each night before bedtime like I was a little kid again, delighted in the story and Nick's journey as an unwilling apprentice to the Evil Wizard Smallbone.

When Nick runs away from his uncle's home one winter night, escape from abuse is his only thought, not any particular direction. Luckily (or not so luckily) for Nick, he stumbles upon a bookstore named Evil Wizard Books and meets its proprietor, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone. Smallbone needs a new apprentice to care for the bookstore while he locks himself away in his tower, working on spells to defend against his greatest enemy: the Evil Wizard Fidelou.

Fidelou and his pack of shape-shifting coyotes are close in breaking down the last protection spells guarding the picturesque coastal town of Smallbone Cove. The residents of Smallbone Cove may fear Smallbone, but he's really more of a grumpy old man. Everyone knows Fidelou is a truly evil wizard and must be stopped. And since Smallbone won't teach Nick any spells, he'll just depend on the self-aware bookstore to help him embrace his magic. Nick is stubborn, frustrated easily, and to the bookstore's resignation, not very patient when it comes to learning basic magicbut he may just be the ideal evil wizard's apprentice and save the day when it counts. 

Delia Sherman's The Evil Wizard Smallbone is an enchanting blend of modern fantasy and classic fairy tale. Sometimes the pacing would slow down in those quiet moments when Nick would tidy the bookstore or care for the farm animals, but then it would pick right back up when Fidelou and his followers caused trouble. I really enjoyed this MG standalone fantasy, but it was definitely the final chapters that convinced me to bump up my rating. Two words: wizard's duel!

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  1. Sweet, funny and magical. I loved Nick, and I LOVED the magical bookstore! (Who wouldn't want one of those?) This book was so much fun to read.