Title: The Candy Shop War
Author: Brandon Mull
Nate and his family have just moved to Colson, little suspecting the quiet town holds immense secrets. Magicians live here, powerful people in search of a treasure. And when Nate and his new friends Pigeon, Summer, and Trevor find the new Sweet Tooth Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe, they’re suddenly in the middle of it. Now the race is on to find the treasure, and who gets there first will make all the difference . . .
The beautiful cover is what drew me to the book, and the description sounded intriguing. Magical candy? Great! But actually reading the book was a little disappointing. Despite the title, there is only one candy shop for half the book (you don’t even find out about the ice cream man until pretty far in), and no indication that candy (or anything edible, for that matter) is the main way to use magic, thus making the “war” rather long in coming.
I do give props for the way the plot twists around on itself, so the kids are never quite sure who’s the good guy and who’s not (and it didn’t take them nearly as long as I feared to figure out Mrs. White, either). Once there is an actual power struggle going on, the struggle gets a lot more intense and the action gets a lot better. And it was just hard to root for the kids when I as a reader know they’re doing the wrong thing for the wrong side, so once they start standing up for good they got a lot more sympathetic.
The other thing that left the book feeling rather flat for me was the characters. Nate, Trevor, Summer, and Pigeon are excellently drawn, but they never really change. The character I was most interested in, John Dart, shows up in the prologue and then disappears for most of the book. I found myself several times wishing the whole story had belonged to John and not just the prologue. John has no magic himself, but is tasked with hunting down powerful magicians as a sort of policeman. But he’s also under a curse that anything he does to another person is reflected back at him (he’s cut when he cuts them, and killed if he kills them, etc). It’s a much more interesting dilemma than four kids who only have to worry about parents (who get drugged by white fudge into not caring about anything), cops (ditto on the fudge), and bullies (the only real point of tension once both sides have magical candy).
So overall I’m on the fence about this one. The story isn’t bad (it nicely avoids being predictable, while still keeping the ending plausible), but it would probably appeal more to kids than older readers. Tentatively Recommended, mostly because John Dart is awesome (and if there’s ever an adult series starring him I am totally reading it).