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When I was in the 9-12 age range, some of my favorite books were mysteries, particularly the kind where no one got hurt and I got to play along at home. Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, "Alfred Hitchcock", (though I could never guess those twists. The diamond was in the python, who was in the acrobats' baton?!) I think Oona Crate and The Wizard of Dark Street would have made little-me very happy and will certainly become a mainstay in my house as my nieces enter their middle-grade years.
Dark Street is an entire city condensed into one very long road. At one end, an iron gate that opens into our world. At the other, a glass gate that opens into the world of the fae. But that gate doesn't open any more. Cut off from the magical world of Faerie for so long, Dark Street, and New York beyond, have very little magic to tap into, except for the Wizard. The Wizard lives in Pendulum House and is responsible for the street's magical needs. There must always be a Wizard on Dark Street, even if he's a rather mediocre one like Uncle Alexander. Fortunately, Oona is the most promising Wizard apprentice in some time. She has Natural Magic, unlike her uncle's Learned variety. Unfortunately, she has no interest in being a Wizard, after a tragedy several years before book start.
First, Oona is fantastic. She's logical, resourceful, and brave. When she's thrust into the heart of a mystery, her immediate reaction isn't to fall to pieces, but to find a way to make it right. After being a Wizard didn't work out, she realizes what she really wants is to be a detective like her dad. She handles the career switch pretty maturely for a 12 year old and sets off to solve two seemingly unrelated mysteries. She's joined by a motley assortment of side characters who I wish had gotten more screen time. There's a talking animal sidekick, a wise servant, a prissy rich girl, a mysterious love interest, a timid witch, and the one who's not from around here. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to flesh them out, what with them all being murder suspects, and that did show towards the end of the book when I realized that after 345 pages, I wasn't rock solid on any of the apprentice candidates names.
The mystery is appropriately twisty, but not unfairly so. You may be able to guess the culprit relatively quickly, but the manner in which whodunit kept me guessing all book long. In the vein of old Nancy Drew stories, every single detail is vitally important and not a piece of candy can be overlooked in the conclusion. Including candy. And overturned stones. And cinnamon.
The Wizard of Dark Street is a bright, smart Middle-Grade fantasy with a great protagonist and a world I'm eager to revisit. If I could give it a grade, (oh look, I can!) I'd say A and a gold star.