The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell review – action-packed fantasy fun

Worlds collide when a young wizard meets a warrior princess in this charmingly illustrated adventure from the author of How to Train Your Dragon

It’s a self-assured author who decides to write a children’s novel about the adventures of a “young boy wizard” in a world of magic, but then Cressida Cowell has reasons to be confident: 8m copies sold of her How to Train Your Dragon books, a film franchise and a spin-off series for TV.

As with the Viking world of Dragon, the eagerly awaited The Wizards of Once is set in the ancient past and our two heroes are scrappy kids struggling with that timeless issue of failing to live up to parental expectations. In place of dragons, there are sprites, deep-thinking giants, ogres and snow cats living in an enchanted wildwood.

The kingdom of Wizards is at war with the neighbouring queendom of Warriors, against whose iron weapons the wizards’ magic is useless. When the boy wizard, Xar (a troublemaking prince waiting in vain for his magic to “come in”), meets the warrior princess, Wish, they discover that the evil magic of witches – long thought extinct – has returned.

The detail of Cowell’s imagined world is a delight, not least in her scratchy pencil illustrations that evoke the darting, insect-like sprites or the pitch-black terrors of the forest. And her kinetic prose barely pauses for breath as Xar and Wish leap from one action-packed scrape to the next (you can practically see the scenes from the already-signed Dreamworks film jumping off the pages).

In an introduction to her new series, Cowell (an advocate for kids literacy) extols the joys of being read to as a child and there are many pleasures here for parents, including Game of Thrones echoes (iron invaders, infectious “bad” magic) and a nice joke in which Crusher the giant ponders the paradoxes of an expanding universe (“giants are big and they tend to have BIG thoughts”). This one will run and run.

• The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell is published by Hodder (£12.99). To order a copy for £11.04 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99


Contributor

Sarah Donaldson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Explorer by Katherine Rundell review – wildly exciting adventure
The gripping tale of four youngsters plunged into the Amazon forest will delight with its warmth and wisdom

Fiona Noble

06, Aug, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson review – thrills and spills for girls
The fearsome, feminine world of roller derby is brought to life in this perceptive coming-of-teens graphic novel

Sarah Donaldson

27, Jun, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrian Edmondson review – journey of discovery
The actor’s tale about a seven-year-old chasing her dad through history is engaging and insightful

Sarah Donaldson

30, May, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin review – moving story of a child migrant
The team behind the graphic novel versions of Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series change direction with this very real and affecting tale

Sarah Donaldson

17, Oct, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Uncle Shawn and Bill by AL Kennedy review – surreal and funny
In her first book for children, AL Kennedy conjures up a vividly imagined world with delightful prose

Sarah Donaldson

28, Feb, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson review – a perceptive tale of a 12-year-old sleuth with OCD
A missing toddler, and a witness with OCD… this kind and confident debut is a fine addition to the ‘child detective’ genre

Fiona Noble

07, Feb, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans review – a riotously funny adventure
Recalling the magic of Dahl and Carroll, this tale of a tyrannical toy rabbit is the first must-read children’s book of the year

Charlotte Eyre

31, Jan, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
Fiction for older children reviews – many happy book returns
With a host of popular characters back this autumn, picking up from where you left off has rarely been more fun

Kitty Empire

24, Sep, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
The best children’s books of 2018 for all ages
From celebrity-penned tales to fresh interpretations of the classics, here is our pick of the best for hungry readers from tots to teens

Fiona Noble, Imogen Carter, Kitty Empire and Kate Kellaway

16, Dec, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
The Light Jar review – thoughtful and empathetic
Lisa Thompson brings bags of empathy to a deftly plotted tale about an 11-year-old left to fend for himself

Sarah Donaldson

16, Jan, 2018 @8:00 AM