Remember that old saying - If you want something badly enough, the universe conspires to give it to you? In “Six Spellmakers…”, author Shabnam Minwalla has the universe doing just that, aiding a group of children in their battle against the dark forces lurking in their apartment complex.
Now if you’re one of those readers whose eyes glaze over at the prospect of yet another tweeny fantasy about a group of perky kiddos saving the world from malevolent, power-hungry baddies , with the aid of magical sprites, mysterious relics and the odd spell, – be warned. But also, be heartened. For, ' Spellmakers..' is a fresh,funny and contemporary take on those old tropes, that also manages to throw in a cheery shout out for the hidden powers of faith, friendship - and unsightly bric- a- brac.
Nivi Malik, new kid on the block, finds friends –both human and arboreal – at Cosy Castle, an apartment complex bristling with some wildly eccentric individuals. Unfortunately, she finds enemies as well , chiefly in the form of three elderly women, collectively keeping the flames of snobbery and curmudgeonry blazing . When the women, purely out of spite, threaten the existence of the two beautiful ’bimbli’ trees growing near the building, she steps in to the rescue. (Wizened witch trios? Trees? Seamy politicking? - Who else yelled ‘Macbeth!’ But I digress. )
Sure enough, invisible powers set a cosmic Plan B in motion, and help arrives from the most unexpected quarters. Newspaper scraps yield the email ids of anonymous advisers (no, not the Nigerian uncle kind); strange cookware salesmen appear, Gandalf-like, at Nivi’s door with powerful gifts, tattoo artists at kiddy parties make surprising revelations - even the enemy camp yields an ally, albeit an extremely distracting one (described as “..cute. Seriously cute. Runner-up to Daniel Radcliffe cute.” I was partial to the Weasley twins myself, but hey, who’s complaining.) The kids supplement these efforts with their own – a little light thievery, some creative interpretation of a list of sacred offerings ( best use of an electronic mosquito racquet in juvenile fiction, ever!!) . But most of all, by exercising that most obscure of mental muscles - Belief.
‘Spellmalkers..’ is a breezy, well paced read that had me grinning from go. I enjoyed its wit, and its keenly observed kids’- eye view of the silly adults they must endure. It also deftly captures the complex hierarchies and rituals of modern day apartment living. In fact, the oddball adult characters in the book, and the few bits of their back story that ‘Spellmakers..’ tosses our way, stayed with me longer than the uniformly pleasant (and occasionally dishy) kids. Which is why (SPOILER AHOY!) I felt a little cheated by the actual Plan – surely an interesting triad of such legendary power would need more than glow paint and a fake portent to bring them to their knees ? And surely, such riveting creatures as the Cyclops, the stair-dwelling Gattu, and the hapless kids of the ‘vuwuvuwu’ chorus practically scream out for more airtime? Then again, perhaps author Minwalla intends to take on that mother of all fantasy tropes – the multi-volume series?