by Garth Nix & Sean Williams
Recommended Ages: 10+
Jack's gift has to do with shadows and darkness. He can see in the dark. He can cloak himself in darkness, becoming all but invisible. And he can travel instantly along the length of any shadow. Jaide's gift, meanwhile, focuses on breezes and draws power from the sun. So she can move things with miniature tornadoes, and can float on the breeze. Controlling these gifts, however, demands precise control that the twins still do not have. Until they do, they will keep getting into accidents and mixing up each other's powers. For example, at times they swap gifts. At other times, one twin or the other will possess both gifts. Since they don't know what will happen when they use their gifts, they can end up doing serious damage even with the best intentions—and their judgment isn't always the best, either.
Such are the handicaps of two growing young heroes as they try to investigate the remnant, or "excision," that The Evil left behind. Who could The Evil be controlling this time? Maybe it's the sleazy real estate developer, whose daughter is their best friend at school. Maybe it's the rival of their feline friend Kleo, whose challenge to her leadership portends a sort of gang rumble, only with fur and claws. Or perhaps it's the Monster of Portland, a creature that nobody has personally seen, though everybody knows somebody who has seen it. Could the Monster be the cause of the horrible groaning sounds in the night, the drag marks in the dirt, the giant snakeskin left on a construction site? Is one of these sinister creatures hoping to take down one of the wards again, so that The Evil can reunite its separated essence?
As in their first outing, Jack and Jaide make a lot of wrong guesses. They blunder into bad situations, making them worse through everything from bad timing to simple tactlessness. And, of course, they are eventually on the spot when the bad thing comes down, so that all depends on them putting it up again. It's a lot of responsibility for two kids. But they're learning a lot fast—and among the things they are learning is to know themselves better. Facing their doubts and fears, protecting their friends, giving their enemies a second chance, they continue to grow towards an awesome (and perhaps terrible) potential.
With some reluctance, I'm sticking a mild "occult content advisory" on this book, and the series as a whole. Parents who guide their children's reading selections according to strict criteria of what types of magic are and are not acceptable, may find the troubletwisters' gifts wobbling on the not-very-fine line between the two. The theory of Warden gifts, as Grandma X and her colleagues explain it, might have a touch of New Age mysticism about it. It's all in how you interpret it. On the other hand, the story portrays a very definite distinction between good and evil, and the ongoing secret battle between the two whose outcome is meant to have cosmic significance—all of which runs crosswise to some notions of New Age thought. Judging it gently, I prefer to think that its philosophy of magic is simply the storytelling engine that allows a kid-friendly, magical adventure to move along its own unique course.