HomeAll postsConjuror by John and Carole E Barrowman

Conjuror by John and Carole E Barrowman

A review by Nalini Haynes

Matt and Em Calder are twins facing an induction into a secret magical society. One is Animare the other a guardian — or they’re both — or the roles are interchangeable. I’m confused.

Anyway, they’re each to be paired with another in this solemn ceremony except Matt opts out so Em does too, both letting down their erstwhile partners and Em losing her boyfriend.

Instead of being banished, magically bound or punished as is the norm for people not paired up during this sacred ceremony, Matt and Em are assigned a mentor and become something like secret agents in the magic world.

A bad dude from hundreds of years ago ventures out of his hiding place in paintings to terrorize the world once more. Matt and Em are on the case, trying to find powerful artifacts and the villain before it’s too late…

Early chapters are short — very short — and tightly written, implying this story may be intended for younger readers, perhaps primary to middle school. Sometimes this jars, like when a chapter ends for the next chapter to begin where the previous chapter ends: in the middle of the same scene that same night, the chapter break shoe-horned in for consistency.

Matt is a precocious 16 year old who is, apparently, sexually active (willingly) with an older — a much older — man. On the one hand, a healthy, happy queer is a delight to read. On the other hand, sexual relations (inferred, not depicted) with an older man… the relationship needs to be more equitable, the participants around the same age, for it to be appropriate. Otherwise it almost seems to be advocating what may be legally proscribed as statutory rape in some places.

A focus on castration culminating in the villain ‘gently cupping’ a boy’s genitals with intent to castrate him adds to Conjuror‘s issues. Although the intent is castration — itself a form of abuse and maiming — the precursor is sexual abuse of a minor, described in this book intended for under-18s. This sexual abuse is depicted as wrong and an act from which the victim is rightfully rescued, however, I’m still not comfortable recommending the book for children or teens.

The chapters are very short, often between 2 and 6 pages in length. Late in the story, Conjuror ventures beyond the line of camp into triple cheese pizza with a cheesy crust. Or a crust made of cheese, hold the dough. When lightning strikes, revealing ninja-like agents creeping up on our heroes (without any foreshadowing) I started laughing, seeing a comedic movie in my mind’s eye.

With the content — trigger warnings advised — Conjuror should be recommended with discretion and with support for readers. The depiction of sexual abuse as wrong and the victim’s rescue may be therapeutic for some readers. Overall, I recommend Conjuror to fans of John Barrowman’s other work in Doctor Who, Torchwood and Arrow: Conjuror fits stylistically into that sub-genre.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781781856383
ISBN 10: 1781856389
Format: paperback, 320 pages
Imprint: Head of Zeus (HarperCollins)
BISAC1: Children’s, Teenage & educational / Fantasy & magical realism (Children’s – Teenage)

Conjuror — a stringed instrument is surrounded by staves of music

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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