The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman: A mixed bag
Updated: Apr 19
Overall rating: 6.5/10
Quality of writing: 6/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): some
Age level: 12 and up
Looking for shelter in a blizzard after running away from his uncle’s, Nick Reynaud ends up at “Evil Wizard Books,” a bookstore owned by a genuine (albeit extremely grouchy) “evil wizard” named Zachariah Smallbone. When Smallbone forces Nick to stay as his apprentice, Nick begins to learn magic from the books in the bookshop, eventually helping Smallbone to defeat his enemy Fidelou, a villainous shape-changing wizard. The storyline of the book is rather engaging; however, the book also contains a fair amount of unnecessary crass language, which readers may want to avoid. Overall, The Evil Wizard Smallbone is less than admirable in terms of style, but has a decently engaging plot as well as occasional humor.
The plot is one of the better parts of this book: it’s fairly interesting and develops in an easy-to-follow manner. The conflict is fairly straightforward as well: the protagonists (Nick, Smallbone, and the Smallbone Covers) need to defend themselves from the evil Fidelou. The resolution at the end is satisfying, and the good guys do come out on top in the end. That said, the book introduces the villain in the prologue, then doesn’t tell us anything more about him for six chapters, which is a bit confusing. In general, the plot of The Evil Wizard Smallbone is decent, but not amazing.
Like the book itself, the characters in The Evil Wizard Smallbone are a bit of a mixed bag. While protagonist Nick Reynaud does develop a degree of self-control and maturity by the end of the book and we definitely see Smallbone become less grouchy and more accepting; the villain Fidelou is fairly one-sided, and the reader doesn’t really get a chance to understand his motivations. On the whole, while some characters are decently thought-out and even teach the reader important lessons such as the value of getting along, other characters are a bit disappointing in terms of development.
This book is quite an easy read overall (at least in terms of style). The language is not too complicated, and the plot is fairly straightforward. Overall, The Evil Wizard Smallbone gets a 3 out of 10 on difficulty.
Quality of writing/ Concerning content
While the plot of this book is decent and the descriptive language is nice, the amount of gratuitous crass language is disappointing, especially in an otherwise decent book. And even though there are no curse words per se, there are multiple points at which characters “swear,” leaving it up to the reader to wonder exactly what they said. The level of violence is fairly moderate, but at least one fight scene is a bit graphic, which readers should consider before reading. Apart from these issues, characters frequently lie, often with no real consequences; and Nick (the protagonist) habitually shows adults less respect than he should (although this does improve somewhat by the end of the book). The “church” in Smallbone Cove (the town founded by Smallbone) is also said to “not have any crosses” on it, and the only purpose it serves in the book is to host a meeting called by Smallbone himself; leaving the reader to wonder what the real purpose for the building is. Finally, the word “evil” is thrown around quite a bit and is actually applied to one of the protagonists (Smallbone), which does seem to trivialize the concept of “evil.” Overall, there is a lot of content to look out for in this book—disappointing in an otherwise decent story. For a creative fix, parents of readers may want to consider doing what my dad did before giving this book to my brothers and me: “editing” this book with whiteout or sticky notes before giving it to readers. (5.5/10)
Although the style and language of this book are not difficult, the amount of unnecessary language makes this book definitely not appropriate for readers under the age of 12. Parents should exercise their own judgement when deciding whether The Evil Wizard Smallbone's redeeming qualities of humor and interesting characters make this book a worthwhile investment of reading time. (ages 12 and up)