Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New York Mystery: The Inquisitor's Apprentice

My library provided another Cybils finalist for my NOOK, this one in the Middle Grade Fantasy category. Chris Moriarty's The Inquisitor's Apprentice is a fantasy alternate history, placed in a New York City around the turn of the century where immigrants pile into tenements and Gilded Age tycoons make sweeping grabs for power, while magic is both banned and widely practiced.

Sacha is a Jewish boy from the wrong side of the tracks, embarrassed about his poverty and his family's origins in front of the other apprentice, who is embarrassed about her mother's social pretentions. For some reason no one wants to tell Sacha what he is actually supposed to be doing, so he spends a lot of time trying to bluff his way through various situations. He's even more  protective of his family than he is of his reputation, keeping secrets from them for their own good even as he tries to hide their foreignness from his co-workers at the Inquisitor's office.  He's a rather improbable blend of extreme naivete and street-smarts, but I liked Lily Astral, his high society fellow apprentice enough to forgive him many things. It's handy for a bluffer to have a foil who is a know-it-all, although Sacha rarely notices how much Lily is helping him.

The alternate history idea works well, with the magic serving as a window into the corruption and biases of the times while keeping things on a friendly plane. Everyone's magic stems from common stereotypes and tropes of their ethnicity, which helps keep people distinct without forcing them to actually live up to those archetypes.

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