Book Review: “Wizard at Work” by Vivian Vande Velde

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From the author of such magical titles as The Rumpelstiltskin ProblemA Well-Timed EnchantmentA Hidden Magic, and Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, comes this quick little novel-in-the-form-of-short-stories about an unnamed, young Wizard who runs a school for young wizards, disguised as a bearded ancient. He reverts to his youthful form during the summer holidays, when he wants to putter in his garden, go fishing, and do little projects around his tower home, but people will keep coming around asking for wizardly favors. And a witch may or may not have put a curse on the Wizard: he will not find true happiness until he learns to see beyond appearances.

And so a succession of cracked fairy tales follows, in which the wizard learns a lot about seeing beyond appearances. A beautiful princess begs the Wizard to break a ridiculous but nasty curse. A plague of rebellious, yearling unicorns has to be stopped before things really get out of hand. A too-honest magical mirror, a dragon, and a princess who refuses to be rescued, combine in one squirm-inducing lesson in seeing beyond skin-deep. A castle needs to be rid of a dripping, inhuman ghost. And finally, the Wizard devises a quest to make a man worthy of the hand of a tomboyish princess-a quest involving a dwarf king’s magic cucumbers.

The stories go by swiftly, but they are full of charm and laugh-aloud humor, spirited adventure, and the logic of mini-mysteries. They are also very instructive, as well as bracingly un-romantic. Sort of a tonic to the worst effects of having fairy tales on the brain.