Prior to Provo City Library’s Teen Book Fest I only knew Brandon Mull as the author of the Fablehaven series. I was taken a bit off guard when I saw hordes of youngsters carrying a different book by him. Little arms absent of Fablehaven book instead clutched copies of The Candy Shop War. I noticed it, but thought very little of it, as to me it seemed this was a novel for much younger kids. then I read Fablehaven and was convinced of Mull’s status as a great storyteller. I had seen it on the shelf of a local bookstore one week, went back a few days alter and they were sold out. I went to another store and snagged their last remaining copy. I cracked open the book with very few expectations.
I was for the most part correct about the target audience of the book which seems in the 8-10 year old range. The story begins with a very familiar middle grade trope: new kid just moving into a new town. Scores of these books begin either in a car travelling to an unfamiliar new hometown, on the first day at a new school, or standing in a bedroom surrounded by boxes waiting to be unpacked. PoseySessions refutes this statement, but I stand firmly by my assessment. The new kid in town is the old fallback opening for many of these types of stories. Not saying that it does not work, but I had hoped for something more original from Mull. There was very little in the way of adapting to a new environment. The fact that the main character instantly made friends and assimilated into his new environment made the fact that he was a new kid in town almost pointless. He confronts the realities of the story as they begin, he did not move into a weird town and begin to discover its oddities, he moved in right as the strangeness begins. Nate could have been any kid who lived in Colson for years, that used and abused new kid in town formula served very little purpose and did nothing but set this novel from the beginning in the “standard middle grade fare” territory.
Standard fare is where the novel muddled for several chapters. The idea of magic candy and the way Mull sets it apart is very well conceptualized. I like the way he created his magical system, a world where magicians have to exploit children with candy in order to achieve their goals. There is something sinister about Mull’s magic from the beginning. It speaks back to the mantra hammered into the minds of every child: “don’t take candy from strangers". The sinister tone that underlies the book serves from the start to make narrative fairly predictable. There were no boundaries smashed in The Candy Shop War, at least in the middle chapters of the book. I did however enjoy the fact that Mull created a dangerous world, a world where you can be killed and nobody is really safe. The introduction of John Dart in the prologue makes it very clear that things are dangerous, and when he reemerges later in the story it is where the book picks up and starts to get better.
One thing that I really liked about The candy Shop war was the unfamiliar triumvirate of opposing forces. The bad guy, the not so bad guy who is still not too trustworthy, and the good guy who is still pretty dark. When John Dart enters the narrative the story changes from something standard to something much more interesting. I wont say if he is a good buy or bad guy (no spoilers) but he is a very neat character who pushes the story in a much better direction. by the end Mull has cultivated a sense of hopelessness and loss. And when the story comes to a climax the reader is turned upside down and inside out and left with their jaw dropped as they contemplate an “I see what you did there” moment.
While The Candy Shop War may be slow and predictable for the first three quarters of the book the final chapters make it more than worthwhile to push through them. in the end I went from disappointed with the book to having enjoyed it enough that I eagerly await the sequel. It is a good read with a solid message for readers of all ages.