________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 3 . . . .September 28, 2007


Third Times the Charm.

Robert Howell.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2007.
195 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-897235-20-1.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4



Everything was quiet as Saleena focused all her attention on the three youngsters sitting in front of her. They soon realized that although she was looking right at them, somehow she wasn't really there. Then she spoke:

Third time's the charm that comes to you,
three minds in one the spells to glue.
The force of good can overcome much,
but death is watching if you lose the touch.
Work alone and you'll certainly fall,
but working together you might win it all.
There will come a time when each is apart,
find each other you must by your hearts.
Just when you feel that all will be lost,
have trust in one presence, no matter the cost.

Saleena suddenly sat bolt upright, a look of horror on her face.


Did you know that Normal is an acronym (admittedly, only 'of sorts') for No Real Magical Abilities? Well, I didn't either, but it is something that the three orphaned cousins, assembled from their diverse and unpleasant foster homes in Chicago, Vancouver, and England, are told soon after arriving at Belmore Manor, a large estate somewhere on the Niagara Peninsula. Twelve-year-old Sharron is the sceptic when it comes to belief in the existence of magic--as her teacher said at their first lesson, "You probably had an incident when you were younger. Maybe you even did a minor spell and it scared you." But after seeing her cousins causing rulers and erasers to float around the room, and writing "Magic exists and I can do it" a hundred times (This was not a punishment but rather self-hypnosis of a sort--a lovely rationale for giving lines!), she, too, manages to focus sufficiently to hurl a book across the room and spill a bottle of ink. (One of the nice things about magical, as opposed to Normal, people is that they don't get cross about accidents of this sort since they can just reverse the spillage and put the ink back into the bottle.)

      As the seer's prophecy, excerpted above, says, together the children will be more powerful than separately, and this is just as well. They are soon told that their parents' deaths were not the accidents they appeared to be, but an attempt to wipe out the entire Dramsmit family. And they are what is left of it. Being resourceful kids, and finding that learning magic is actually lots of fun, they apply themselves to their studies and to solving the mystery of their parents' deaths. While they don't destroy the Evil One who is trying to do them in, (that would cut off the possibility of a sequel, as well as being unconvincing), by working together, they do manage to set him back several paces.

      The book has heavy overtones of Harry Potter, of course, and more than a few suggestions of Lemony Snickett's "Baudelaire" orphans as well, but it has a number of original touches, and the action moves along at a roaring pace. There are places where the dialogue is a bit clumsy, especially when the children are talking among themselves. I cannot imagine one child telling others about a bad dream and saying, "Totally frozen by fear, I could only watch as this creature emerged from the forest." There is no reason to have entire books written in Kidspeak, but direct speech can be more convincing than that. I could also wish that the publisher/editor had thought to put an apostrophe in the title so as to have it make sense. These are minor quibbles, however, about a story which is gripping and altogether a really good read.


Mary Thomas, who works in an elementary school library in Winnipeg, MB, was, at the time of writing this review, eagerly awaiting the appearance of the final Harry Potter book.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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