Book Review: A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson
A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson
Published: September 8th 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Format: Paper Book
Length: 340 pages
Genre: Mystery, Magic, Fantasy, Poverty
Rating: 3.5 stars
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In the spell-powered city of Tarreton, the wealthy have all the magic they desire while the working class can barely afford a simple spell to heat their homes. Twelve-year-old Isaveth is poor, but she’s also brave, loyal, and zealous in the pursuit of justice—which is lucky, because her father has just been wrongfully arrested for murder.
Isaveth is determined to prove her innocence. Quiz, the eccentric eyepatch-wearing street boy who befriends her, swears he can’t resist a good mystery. Together they set out to solve the magical murder of one of Tarreton’s most influential citizens and save Isaveth’s beloved Papa from execution.
But each clue is more perplexing than the next. Was the victim truly killed by Common Magic—the kind of crude, cheap spell that only an unschooled magician would use—or was his death merely arranged to appear that way? And is Quiz truly helping her out of friendship, or does he have hidden motives of his own? Isaveth must figure out who she can trust if she’s to have any hope of proving her Papa’s innocence in time. . .
A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson was a predictable but enjoyable read. The main character, Isaveth, was a touch annoying to me; too much of a goody two shoes and a special snowflake. The identity of Quiz was fairly obvious, as was the ‘bad guy’. I liked the world building and the magical system Anderson created. The creation of a kitchen witchery system with spells baked into cakes was neat and inventive. (Magic cookies!) The book centers on a lot of politics, which is interesting to see in a middle grade book. This is also the second book I’ve read lately with strong themes of racism and prejudice; this time focusing on the religious. Isaveth and her family are Moshite; a fantasy parallel used in place of Judaism and, in my mind, Islam. The Moshite are treated as lower class and denied jobs and resources due to their religion, even among the other poor people living in the same slums they are living in. Like The Lightning Queen by Laura Reasu, this book is an examination of class, poverty, and racism, this time in a magical setting.
My favorite part is Isaveth using fanfiction as a coping mechanism. Deprived of her favorite mode of entrainment and relaxation when her family is forced to sell their radio, Isaveth writes her own stories for the radio play she usually listens to. I was tickled to see fanfiction represented here. I also liked the moral implications of Annagail and Isaveth denying their religion just to be treated fairly. By merely hiding the most visible indication of their religion, their Mother’s prayer scarf, Annagail is able to get a better job as a maid, rather than slaving away in a sweatshop. It brings into harsh light how irrational and arbitrary racism and prejudice is. Meggery, the head maid, likes Annagail but as soon as she finds out she is Moshite, Meggery fires Annagail, although Annagail is the same person she always was. It shows how ugly bigotry is.
The downside to A Pocket Full of Murder was a messy plot and an unsurprising outcome. I don’t see why a second book is necessary. It should have ended with Quiz retrieving the recording bracelet and the bad guy being exposed, his political ambitions ruined. This book would have worked perfectly as a stand-alone, had it been finished properly, and now I fear it’s going to be beaten to death as a series. The magical system, while neat, is not really important to the overall story and the pace can be a bit slow in places. In all, A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson had good bones but just an ok performance.