Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
This fantasy, aimed at 7-11 year olds, is set in Obscura, a village inhabited by the descendants of the good wizards and witches who were victorious in the wizard war of the Middle Ages. The village is disguised to protect it from intrusions by ordinary people and also from the descendants of those who lost the war. When a stranger moves in to a house in the village, the inhabitants are slow to realise that he is an evil wizard, Cryptor. He is determined to break the truce that ended the earlier war and build a new Dark Army. The four children at the centre of the story must find a way to resist a variety of attacks, as their enemies gather strength. The whole village and its magical allies are drawn into a new battle against the forces of evil.
The story has some familiar ingredients, including the use of Latin words to cast spells, a school of magic and friendly dragons. Modern technology is added to the mix, so that androids and submarines are deployed as well as cauldrons and spells. There are plenty of magical creatures, such as flying warhorses and winged snakes, as well as the dragons. Cryptor travels across the world in search of magical ingredients, so we are given a sense of places beyond the village, although the story moves too fast for any of the settings to make a deep impression.
Several of the creatures are given distinct personalities, depicted with some humour. Less attention is paid to the human characters, although the children, two girls and two boys, are all given a chance to display courage and determination.
There are plot twists as both sides try to revive the ancestors who fought the earlier war and look for ways to gain the advantage in their struggles. The good witches and wizards are strong on co-operation and kindness but I found myself more engaged with the antics of their enemies. The evil ones are declared early on to be stupid as well as wicked. They squabble energetically among themselves and their habits are disgusting. As a result, their efforts result more in farce than in epic adventure, which may l increase the book’s appeal to younger children. Overall, this is a light-hearted, action-packed read.