Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend

A review by Nalini Haynes

In the first Nevermoor book, Morrigan Crow is smuggled into Nevermoor to enter the Wundrous Society trials. We see Nevermoor through the delighted and frightened eyes of a snarky 11 year old whose attitude entertains even moi. Although this series is aimed at primary children, Townsend does not dumb down her story, truly appealing to all ages.

In Wundersmith, Morrigan is now a member of the Wundrous Society and starts school. However, the elders are afraid of Morrigan’s powers so they clear her timetable, reducing her classes to one: a study of the evil deeds of Wundersmiths. Meanwhile, actual evil deeds and mischief are afoot.

It’s not just the text, it’s also the white spaces

During Wundersmith, Morrigan learns not to glibly accept books as tomes of wisdom. She also learns to critically evaluate adults’ words and actions. Beyond that, however, she learns that bullies can do the right thing and seemingly nice people can actually be evil. For all this truth-dropping and shade-casting, Wundersmith is, at all times, entertaining and engaging.

Wundersmith vs minorities

Public transport includes the Brolly Rail, where passengers hook onto a rail with their umbrellas, travel at high speed, then jump off without slowing, a cross between Harry Potter and Divergent. Unfortunately, between this and many other features of this world, there doesn’t seem to be any room for disabled people.

Someone is stripped of their magical powers during the story. Everyone reacts as if the person acquired a “tragic” disability or as if he died. There’s talk of healing or restoration, but none of acceptance. Morrigan never sees this person again, so it appears he becomes persona non grata, fulfilling Paul Darke’s normality drama trope although Wundersmith does not wait until the end to sideline the disabled character.

Beyond disability, Wundersmith is inclusive, with no apparent barriers to race, gender or even species.

The verdict

Wundersmith entrances readers, compelling us to forge ever onward! At times I had to remind myself that Morrigan is a child because I love her character, her snarkiness, and I relate to her outsider status. This series truly entertains readers of all ages although children too young to read it solo may find it scary. Teaching children to critique what they hear and read in such an entertaining way is commendable. If it wasn’t for Wundersmith’s treatment of disability and erasure of disabled people, I’d give it 5 stars. As it is, I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Book details

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9780734418227
Imprint: Lothian Children’s Books (Hachette)
Format: paperback
Released: 2018
Category: children, fantasy

Wundersmith: Morrigan Crow is in a room with enormous "snow globes" with magical creatures inside