A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson. Simon and Schuster, 2015.
Isaveth is trying her hand at baking spells from her mother’s old recipe. If she gets them right, they’ll be better quality than the factory-made spells, and she can earn some much-needed extra money for her family. Her father’s been having a hard time finding work recently, due to prejudice against their minory Moshite beliefs. But as she’s out selling them, she gets knocked over by a boy (with an eyepatch!) on a bicycle. Life goes from bad to worse as her father is wrongfully accused of murder and jailed. Her older sister wants to just try to keep things going and trust to justice, but Isaveth, though younger, is inspired by her radio drama heroine, Lady Justice Auradia. She and Quiz, the friendly if mysterious bicycle boy, set out to prove her father’s innocence. Isaveth’s initial optimism hits the ground hard as she uncovers deeper and deeper levels of corruption. Has she just opened up herself and the rest of her family to danger instead of helping?
I came a little late to the party on this book, which Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile and Maureen at By Singing Light both adored. It was worth the wait, though! This is a detailed not-quite Earth world in what felt like Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. The invented religions echo Judaism and Christianity while allowing freedom to talk about prejudices from outside that framework, a touch which I appreciated. I really enjoyed the magic system, which divided the Common Magic, only grudgingly admitted to be real magic by the elite, from the Sagery that the wealthy can use. I’ve rarely if ever read about magic being part of industrial revolutions, so the talk of magic that can be reproduced in factories, if not quite as well, was fascinating. But really, all of that is background for the characters and plot, and both of these aspects are quite strong. Isaveth and Quiz both strike just the right balance of brave and vulnerable, so enthusiastically setting off to do the right thing. The plot felt like Isaveth riding downhill with Quiz on his bicycle: starting off at a moderate pace, but picking up speed, with lots of bumps and the characters clinging ever more tightly together to stay on the bicycle. This is an exciting story with characters that pull at the heart-strings and enough depth to leave readers with something to think about afterwards. This was my first time reading R. J. Anderson, and it certainly won’t be my last.