Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: The Ghost in the Crystal

The Ghost in the Crystal (School of Ages, #1)The Ghost in the Crystal by Matt Posner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Fantasy/Magic Reading Level: Young Adult

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this eBook from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Your NEW favorite magic school is New York City's School of the Ages. I am a mixed-race teen from Queens, New York, and when I answer an advertisement in a magazine, the South Wind shows up at my door to introduce me to a world of adventure, power, and tragedy that feels both strange and right: ghosts, elementals, time travel, magic duels, clashes of culture, teen romance, sacrifice, and ultimate loss. The evil spirit of a bitter and scheming heretic from ancient Alexandria attacks me and forces me to risk everything in order to save his soul. Kids and adults won't stop reading -- The Ghost in the Crystal. I am Simon Magus, and I approve this message.

My Thoughts: I imagine a lot of reviewers have referenced Harry Potter, but this is not Harry Potter. The Harry Potter books had an initial kind of innocence to them; this book has an almost-immediately darker feel. Simon Magus is 13-going-on-14 when he learns about the School of the Ages, and his parents are involved in the decision for him to go there. There are no “houses,” no familiars, no robes required for the students, no institutionalized rivalry like that created by the contests between the houses in HP, no flying on broomsticks, no magical creatures... basically, this is a completely different type of story, more in line with a realistic world, and one I found very appealing.

I should point out that while Matt Posner has tried to put in the Chasidic Jewish family and students, my husband used to live in Israel and told me that this would not happen. The Chasidics would refuse to have anything to do with anyone else – it is not possible that a Cabala school would be integrated with any other school, nor is it possible that they would have anything to do with any Gentile. In fact, being in the presence of a Gentile causes them to become unclean and they need to go through special cleansing rituals before they can be reintegrated with their families. Chasidics would therefore require that they be in a separate school, with nothing to do with anyone else, and only Chasidics to be allowed in. I’ll admit that I asked him this because I honestly expected, based upon the hostility between them, that Yakov and Simon would be teamed up somehow – boy did I get an earful! He says that, in Israel, they have separated themselves to the point where they have their own towns, put up walls around them, and don’t allow anyone else inside. These are not people I see accepting the authority of the School of the Ages. However, that is in Israel and I have to admit that it is likely they aren’t quite so segregated here in the States. This is a side issue, anyway...

I must say that, overall, I really loved this book. It was very engaging, the characters changed and grew through the series, and Posner left lots of room for development of their characters as they age. Robbie Ravitz is the one who most acted his age – Simon and Goldberry were almost preternaturally mature for their ages. I enjoyed the character dynamics, and liked most of the characters. I hope we continue to learn more about them, including the enigmatic Rambal, and why Chatterjee and Bannerjee look so much alike.

I noticed a few inconsistencies. For instance, when Simon first goes to the school, he is shown the seven arches. Later the arches are mentioned again, and seven names are given, but the person talking says – twice – that there are six arches. This is done again toward the end of the book: I paused for a moment to look at the six pillars: faith, perception, balance, wisdom, receptiveness, judgment, and discipline. That is, by my count, seven pillars, not six, as said during the initial visit to the school.

It is strange to me also that the only devotionals are run by a rabbi (and listed on the schedule for Simon and Goldberry, when they are not Jewish); it is also strange that the only religion that is allowed for (by leaving the Sabbat clear, except for a basic class in Hebrew) is Judaism. While it is, of course, unlikely that any people from other Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions would be enrolled in the school (it is, in fact, unlikely that the Jewish students would be enrolled there – usually a Cabala school would be separate and exclusively Jewish, as I mentioned before), it is strange that these traditions aren’t kept to a certain degree. There is a certain degree of magic in the history of both the Catholic and Protestant churches, after all, even if they don’t admit it readily. However, although this is a school of magic with simply a connection to the Cabala school, there are several Rabbis teaching and they often discuss their religious beliefs. It’s something that sort of confused me. Of course, students are allowed days off from school for religious observances, and Hinduism is brought up during Asian History class, but there are no pujas during the school year at the school, and meditation is areligious. It didn’t bother me, as I’m not a religious person, I just found the dynamic a bit strange. I guess it challenged my perceptions of the world and my ideas of how things “should be”.

Well, I have certainly digressed a lot in this review – but I must say I enjoy a book that makes me think, makes me question and, most importantly, makes me challenge my boundaries and ideas. For those of you who want a lot of magical twiddle-twaddle (not that there is anything wrong with that; I enjoy that sort of thing, myself), this is not that kind of book. This kind of magic is, for the most part, subtle and quite realistic. I think those of us who know a bit about magic will be the sorts who will particularly enjoy this book, although anyone who enjoys YA fantasy will also likely enjoy this book. I definitely want to talk to the author about some of the ideas he came up with and the sorts of research he did. Maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll turn it into a Q&A and post it on my blog – would you like that? I highly recommend this book, and I will now try to get the next book in the series read tonight so I can review it before I get started on what looks to be a long week of editing. Check this book out – enjoy!

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  1. The error with the pillars will be repaired in future editions. I actually rewrote that material but I am reluctant to upload a new version because I paid a formatter for the present version and I don't format as well...

    1. Oh, dear - yeah, formatting is a pain in the butt. Hopefully you'll get it fixed ok :-)


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