Book Review: “Charlie Bone and the Hidden King” (“Children of the Red King”, Book 5) by Jenny Nimmo

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Nine hundred years ago, the Red King went into the forest to mourn his wife, and was transformed into a tree. His ten children –– five good, five evil –– warred among each other, and the good ones moved away into the wide world. Now Bloor’’s Academy, a special school built on the site of the Red King’’s ruined castle, is bringing the descendants of those ten magical children back together. But the war between good and evil, the battle for control of all the magic, continues.

Caught up in that battle is 12-year-old Charlie Bone, a second-year student at Bloor’’s Academy who has the ability to walk into pictures and talk with the people in them. Charlie is plagued by a grandmother and three great-aunts who want him to serve the cause of evil; and by the disappearance of his father, whom Charlie dreams of finding and bringing home again.

Even with a growing circle of “endowed” friends, and some un-endowed ones too, Charlie faces more danger than ever in this adventure, which may be the final chapter of the Children of the Red King series. A wicked witch-woman has released a shadow from the portrait of the Red King. An enchanter has stolen the heart of Charlie’’s mother, making her forget his long-lost father –– and once forgotten, he will be lost forever. A magnetic little boy focuses his terrible powers against Charlie. Charlie’’s best friend’’s parents turn spy against him. Disappearing animals, reclusive friends, and an old enemy with a terrible new power are against him… and as Charlie begins to learn the truth about his father, he also learns that saving him requires a magic spell performed by ten young descendants of the Red King. Where will he find that many allies in time?

Jenny Nimmo’’s spooky, weird, complex fantasy tale rushes to a big finish in this book. Sometimes one misses the slower pace and richer detail of the earlier books, but now that the stage has been fully set and the urgency of the adventure is turned all the way up, it’’s hard to complain. This is a totally enjoyable, quirky “Harry Potter alternative” written on about the level of Sorcerer’’s Stone, with an easy-to-read format, an appealing hero, appalling villains, and a clever blend of different styles of magic. And now that the adventure seems to have run its course, you’’ll want to know at the end of this book: Will Charlie start a new adventure now?