A Pocket Full of Murder
By R.J. Anderson
Paperback, 368 pages
2016, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Isaveth’s father has just been arrested for a murder she knows he didn’t commit. Determined to seek justice and prove her father’s innocence, she teams up with a wise street urchin and begins unraveling a plot that winds its way through the divide in social classes in her magical city of Tarrenton. The rich have all the magic they could want, while poor folk like Isaveth and her family can barely afford spells for heat and light. The unrest of the common citizens is at its boiling point and the murder pinned on her father will only make matters worse unless she can prove he didn’t do it.
-stares open-mouthed into the distance for a moment- Oh! I finally understand the title! Ahem, anyway.
I purchased this book at the same time as A Sliver of Starlight and if you’ve seen my Judging Post, you’ll know I was lured in by wonderful cover art. But I was also intrigued by the plot and A Pocket Full of Murder didn’t disappoint!
Here’s a middle-grade mystery adventure that deals with religious persecution, the struggle of the lower class, the use (and abuse) of welfare (known as “relief” in the book) and standing up for justice, no matter the cost. Looking back, there are some potentially heavy themes in this book, but they were folded neatly into the story of a young girl who aspires to uphold justice like her favorite champion in the talkie series and save her father.
Isaveth is lower class and she and her family struggle to make ends meet since the death of her mother and her father losing his job. On top of that, they are Moshites and because of their religious beliefs, they are often discriminated against. Anderson managed to write about Isaveth’s plights without feeling preachy or heavy handed and Isaveth is a determined, bright heroine.
The world Anderson created blends steam power (yes!) with magic to create a world similar to our own, yet also very Victorian feeling. I especially loved the baking element of magic. Different spells and potions are crafted before they can be used. The upper-class use a different type of magic because they have different materials available to them, like metals. Isaveth, unable to afford materials like that, follows her mother’s cookbook and through her “spell baking” she creates tablets and potions at home out of ingredients like flour and sunlight.
I’m very fond of the character names Anderson uses as well. I don’t know about you, but I’m very picky when it comes to character names. Especially in the fantasy genre, it can be hard to create an original or uncommon name without making the reader mentally choke on too many vowels or consonants (ie: Cealeanae from Throne of Glass). Isaveth, Mimmi, Annagail, Lilet, Eryx, Quiz – I liked them all!
If you’re looking for a magical mystery with a Victorian feel, I highly recommend this. I’ll be purchasing the sequel as soon as it’s in paperback – gotta make sure my editions match!
Check out Anderson’s website for more about her other books.