I read this book for my Cybils speculative fiction panel, but it’s really fairly straightforward, if unbelievable, adventure fiction set in 1929 New York City. There is a jinni and a magic mirror, but it’s never clear in the story whether these things are actually magical or whether the mirror in particular is just a Macguffin that some of the characters believe contains magical power while others use it to deceive the superstitious masses.
They peered at the package in the sickly light of the corner streetlamp. Nura lifted the lid with trembling fingers, and the cousins gazed at last upon the strange object for which they had risked their lives.
“What is it?” William asked.
“The Eye of Midnight,” replied Nura. “The Key to Paradise.”
On a stormy May day William and Maxine, cousins who hardly know each other, meet at the home of their mutual grandfather, Colonel Battersea. Soon after their arrival, Grandpa receives a telegram which takes the three of them to New York City to meet up with a courier who is bringing a special, secret package to Colonel Battersea. From there, the story rapidly becomes more and more frenzied, dangerous, and desperate as the children try to rescue Grandpa, find the lost package, decide whether or not to trust the courier, a girl named Nura, and work out their own new-found friendship. Along the way they encounter a gang of assassins, murderous gangsters, a helpful motorcyclist, and a cemetery full of secrets.
There were things I liked about this story, and things I didn’t. I liked the Indiana Jones feel to the story and the references to Sir Richard Burton and Lawrence of Arabia. I liked the three cousins working together to defeat the bad guys and rescue Grandpa. And I especially liked this scene toward the end of the novel:
On this evening, however, four pairs of eyes watched, transfixed, as the spider went about her work.
She moved with grace and dexterity, never hesitating, never perplexed by any riddle of engineering or architecture, as she crossed and recrossed her handiwork, tracing a memory.
“Who taught you how, little one?” murmured Grandpa as he watched. “When did God whisper the steps in your ear?”
Beside him Maxine stirred. Balling her fists, she snatched a napkin from the table and swept the web away.
“Hey, what’d you do that for?” said William.
The discussion of the spider and about God goes on from there. It’s a good vignette.
The parts I didn’t like involve the writing itself and the choice of villains. I’m not sure it’s the right time in history to present a story about evil, murderous Arabic Hashashin (assassins) who are tying to destroy New York City and take over the world. I know that the Old Man of the Mountain and his servants were a staple of European bogey-man tales of medieval Islamic enemies, but just now when there are actual murderous jihadist terrorists who are trying to infiltrate the United States, perhaps through New York City, and when prejudices and fears are high, it might not be best to present it all in story form for middle grade readers. Also Mr. Brumbach’s writing is sometimes good, but sometimes clunky and awkward, often cliched. (Like mine, but I’m not writing a book.) Example: “Maxine shrank back inexplicably. The thing was not pleasant to her sight.”
You get the idea. Read it for a Raiders of the Lost Ark-type adventure story, ignore the modern day parallels between the Hashashin and ISIS, and skip over the occasional lack of elegance. Not bad for a debut.