The Lock-Eater

Dial. Jan. 2022. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781984816887.
Gr 5 Up–“The Adventurer’s Guild” co-author has created a new fantastical world where The Empire reigns watchfully supreme over their nation’s witches and wizards, and is in the midst of a magical battle with the outlying (older) elemental magic of the Ley Coven, who threaten it at its self-imposed borders. The tale opens in Merrytrails Orphanage, where readers meet an unbelievably noxious and temperamental cat named Abraxas, and a diverse band of foundlings under the supervision of a benevolent mistress, Mrs. Harbargain. One orphan, Melanie Gate, has the special power of unlocking or confounding any lock she encounters. One night a strangely sentient automaton, a “gearling” known simply as Traveler, visits the orphanage to recruit a foundling as a witch’s apprentice, setting Melanie on her transformative adventure. Clark has woven a compelling story as intricate and sparkling as the magical spells he describes, and manages to combine high fantasy with a heart-wrenching passageway through adolescence, queer awakening, and existential mysteries with ease. The cast of characters is deeply knowable, and its worldbuilding aches for more adventures in this setting. Readers will cheer and weep with Melanie and Traveler as they discover who they are in the face of doubt, illusion, and betrayal. Clark has crafted one of those special books that only comes around every so often, a delicately balanced fantasy and coming-of-age novel that will resonate with adults and children alike.
VERDICT A must-purchase for a middle school library, this philosophical fantasy is an absolute revelation for an adolescent child yearning for adventure and knowing oneself.–

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