The Inquisitor's Apprentice
by Chris Moriarty
Harcourt Children's Books
13 year-old Sacha Kessler is a nice Jewish boy growing up in a Jewish slum of Lower East Side New York in the 1800's. Old World magic clashes with American technology and is "technically" outlawed, although most housewives are all too happy to turn a blind eye to the occasional spell that might make their household chores a little easier. Sacha has a super-rare ability to see magic (it is invisible to most) and as such, gains a high-prestige job with the Inquisitors, New York's anti-magic squad run by brilliant, laconic detective Maximilian Wolf.
This is clearly a parallel world to our own, with the wealthy Astor family renamed "Astral", "Morgaunt" instead of J.P. Morgan, "Pentacle Shirtwaist Factory," instead of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and so on. I loved the "lie detector test" - conducted by bored clerical assistants who perfunctorily use their magic ability to determine the truthfulness of statements from petty criminals in downtown lock-up. The whole world seems well thought out, with robber barons hoping to stamp magic out for their own gain. Sacha's large, poor, but loving family who live crammed in a tiny tenement apartment seem especially well fleshed out. The book felt like Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind-Family meets Sam Spade with a dash of magic thrown in.
Plenty of real historical figures including Thomas Edison and Houdini make important cameos in this book. Sacha is embarrassed by his family's low means, and is caught in a web of lies - it takes pushy fellow apprentice Lily Astral and Wolf's patience to finally bring Sacha out of his shell. What he hasn't been able to admit to them is that he is being stalked by a dybbuk - a malevolent spirit who appears as his doppelganger and hopes to slowly rob his life from him.
Readers who enjoy historical fantasy, especially books like Patricia Wrede's Frontier Magic series will enjoy this fast-paced, magical detective story. There are enough loose ends to leave plenty of room for a sequel, or even a series.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.