As an adult reader familiar with urban fantasy, Ted Naifeh's tale of an awkward young girl moving into an old uncle's creepy house may seem typical, if not downright cliche. The usual elements come into play within the first volume alone: the forbidden library full of spell books, the goblin market, the nemesis.
Thankfully, Courtney Crumrin is a plucky female lead. She's completely no-nonsense, and she's a twenty-first century child, despite feeling older than her years. She makes the older fantasy elements of her story seem fresh again. Disenchanted with her parents' stupidities and bullied by her peers, Courtney embarks on a tentative friendship with her mysterious granduncle, who occasionally saves her from her own mistakes.
Appropriate for younger readers, Courtney is probably a character many children can relate to and appreciate. She's not a Hermione Granger. She doesn't have the answers to anything beforehand. Yet she emerges from each scrape a wiser person, with each chapter seemingly a cautionary tale on messing what one does not comprehend. Courtney doesn't fully understand the magic she's dabbling in, and her uncle is not going to spoon-feed her any answers. Thus, her own solutions to her problems are amusing and imaginative. This volume is a solid start to a series that one should read to the kids.
(This review previously appeared in the San Francisco/Sacramento Book Reviews.)