Abby Hale has been looking forward to her Judgment for a long time. After she is judged, she will finally be able to use magic rather than relying on her family to help her through the daily routines of life in a magic household. There is a big party planned for afterward. But when she goes to find out how strong her magic is it turns out, “She has nothing. She is nothing. She’s an ord.” In a world where everyone has magic, she is now regarded as something less than human by the majority of the population.
Her family, however, refuse to give her up or sell her as tradition demands and, thanks to a recent ruling by the king, she is able to go to a school for ords where she can learn to live without magic and how to defend herself from would-be kidnappers. Ords, it turns out, have their uses: Adventurers find them useful for getting through magic traps and redcaps like to eat them.
Rubino-Bradway creates a plausible magic-oriented world, one where magic is used not just for the big things but is a part of everyday life, useful for cooking, making beds, and cleaning dishes. The small touches are a delight to see. This is also a world full of magical creatures, of minotaurs, goblins, and mermaids. Rubino-Bradway has even included rankings and divisions among the creatures, pulling from fairy tale and myth to add red caps to the regular goblin types.
There are occasional lapses in the world building: I could not tell whether red caps were subjects of King Steve’s or not, for example, but by and large, these were small nitpicks in an otherwise interesting and thought-out system that makes good use of its mythic and fairy tale roots.
The book is noteworthy for not choosing the “poor orphan” path. Abby’s family emphatically does not give her up, and they are a delightful group with a range of personalities and interactions. It’s almost a shame not to see more of them. The school, too, is a good, sturdy school with reasonable rules and a strong curriculum with a special emphasis on the things the ord need to know to defend themselves: Self defense is a requirement and so are languages “In case you’re bought and sold…you’ll find escape much easier if you know the local language.” It is an eminently practical curriculum, teaching both the usual subjects and a wider range of survival skills.
And, of course, there are kidnappings, and escapes, and goblin attacks. Ordinary Magic never gets too dark, but there are tight moments, and times when Abby has to use her wits to get out of tight situations. She also has strong friendships and family ties to draw on, which make for a much richer book.
Ordinary Magic stands on its own more than satisfactorily, but there is room left for a sequel. Hopefully, one will come soon!
Published May 8th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
ISBN 1599907259 (ISBN13: 9781599907253)