________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 19 . . . . May 11, 2007


Josh & the Magic Vial.

Craig Spence.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2006.
396 pp., pbk., $17.95.
ISBN 978-1-897235-10-2.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Ronald Hore.

***½ /4


"Then get out. It’s not real," Puddifant insisted. "If you can only think of it as an illusion, you’ll see through to your own world, Charlie."

"The walls of his palace are made of green marble, I think. Quite grand, really. It must have taken years to build."

“It’s not real Charlie!"

The boy sank back into his pillow.

"Charlie!" Clarisa shrieked.

But he had slipped beyond reach, sinking back into his coma.

Three hours later Charles Alexander Underwood died. He simply stopped breathing. Clarisa wailed over her son. She cradled his head in her arms and kissed him fiercely. But a lifetime of sorrowing after him would not bring Charlie back, or mend Clarisa’s soul.

"My boy. My dear, sweet child," she sobbed.

Puddifant, hearing the news, wept too. He’d been close to extricating the boy, and blamed himself for not succeeding. "It’s not your fault, man! Don’t be ridiculous," he grumbled, but couldn’t quite bring himself to believe it. He walked to clear his mind, tramping along under a moonless sky with stars scattered about the blackness like sequins."


Sometimes when I first pick up a book, I suppress a shudder, suspecting I’m going to find a Harry Potter clone or a rehash of The Lord of the Rings. It can be a word, a character’s name or just the tone that sets me off. I’m pleased to say that Josh & the Magic Vial puts those sort of fears to rest early on.

     The book is 396 pages, a soft cover in the 51/2 x 81/2 format. It is divided into 73 chapters which makes for easy reading. You can take small bites (the average chapter works out to just over five pages) or devour it rapidly. Another touch that sets this book aside, not only does the author name the city where most of the action in this world takes place, but it is located in Canada. The book is divided into sections, a six page opening prologue, a section entitled "The Vial" of 108 pages where we meet the main characters from today’s time, a section called "Puddifant’s Tale," of 74 pages which is set in 19th century Victorian London England, and finally a section called fittingly enough, "In Syde" which is the final 204 pages and is set in the dark Kingdom of Syde.

     The prologue, set in London, England, and from which the above excerpt is taken, introduces the strange goings on in the Great Ormand Street Hospital for Children, the name of the villain "Vortigen," and Inspector Puddifant.

     The next section brings us to modern day Vancouver B.C. and the 12-year-old Josh Dempster, a boy who loves to draw fantastic comic book heros and strange lands, and his best friend, Millie Epp of the red frizzy hair and the ready quip. Josh becomes involved with the strange lady who runs "Lil’s Magical Emporium & Second Hand." Her name is really Endorathlil, and rumour has it she is a witch and fences stolen goods. She is in cahoots with the local street gang, aptly named the "Street Level Gang." This gang is run by Conky McDougal. One of his gang members, Ian Lytle, becomes involved with Josh and Millie early on in the story. From a broken home, Ian believes it is his duty in life to protect his younger sister, Adele. The magic vial in the story comes in when Josh steals it from Endorathlil in an effort to get some of his personal property back. We don’t know what the vial contains, but we do know that Endorathlil is desperate to get it back. Josh gets some unsuspected allies.

     The section "Puddifant’s Tale" takes us back to Victorian England and the efforts of Inspector Puddifant to discover why children are dying and who or what Vortigen is. He stirs up a nest of trouble and tracks down some of the minions working for Vortigen. Puddifant ends up in serious difficulty.

     The final section "In Syde" is where Josh and his friends come face-to-face with the evil Vortigen and his kingdom. Lord Vortigen is looking for an heir in order to restore his full power and incidentally take over our world. Josh is the best candidate for the honour of being Vortigen’s heir and is subjected to all sorts of temptations in an effort to win him over.

     This is a tale of the struggle between good and evil and the power of love. The story is well written and flows with enough goings-on to make the reader keep turning the pages. The characters of the young people are portrayed realistically enough, and the dialogue flows. I suspect that this is a book some adults will pick up once their children set it down.

Highly Recommended.

Ronald Hore, involved with writer’s groups and writer’s workshops for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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