On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master's shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar's world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.
Perhaps, after reading the (quite wonderful) Harry Potter series, you might think there was no more to hear and know about magic. I am here to tell you that if you thought that you would be wrong.
Meet the 2 main characters:
First, there is Oscar. Oscar is 11.
Oscar is Caleb the Magician's hand- sort of like an assistant to the assistant. He feels very lucky to be Caleb the Magician's hand, since he was chosen from the Home so many years ago he can't really remember it except for the leaving. He spends his days in the basement pantry grinding leaves and berries he's gathered from Caleb's personal gardens and the enchanted wizard forest that protects them all. His companions are house cats, to whom he is quite devoted. He is uncomfortable speaking to strangers. Strangers don't say what they mean and ask questions when they don't have time to listen to the answers.
They want to look you in the eye!
If only they would be a bit patient!
Oscar can read, astonishingly enough for how socially awkward he is, and spends furtive midnight hours soaking up knowledge. Not only about about herbs and plants that help him in his work, but lately he has discovered books about the history of his barrow and the Plaguelands beyond.
Society is ordered and Oscar's life has a comforting predictability -- until the unthinkable happens.
Second, there is Callie.
Callie is the Healer's assistant. She is a bit older than Oscar. She is kind and good at her job, though sometimes finds it hard to keep all the medicinal plants straight in her mind. She is patient when speaking to Oscar and he learns to trust her.
Oscar and Callie persevere as a force for good as their world starts to fall apart.
And then there are the others- Masters of their crafts, common villagers, the Shining people of the town who are beautiful and wealthy- those who have perfect children.
When the unthinkable does happen, Oscar and Callie join forces to save both the ailing perfect children (unimaginable!) and the entire town in such a satisfying way I never wanted the book to end.
The Real Boy is a glorious book. I savored the language, rereading sentences that delighted me, while being totally captivated by Ursu's characters. This is fantasy that can translate to our modern world in the very best way.
This gem of a book is perfect for advanced mid-graders, boys and girls alike, and will also be enjoyed by young adults and those young at heart of all ages.
I can't recommend this book highly enough.
This is a treat. Read it!"