cover image A Bitter Magic

A Bitter Magic

Roderick Townley. Knopf, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-449-81649-3

After Cisley's mother vanishes during a magic act, the 12-year-old returns home to her family's glass castle by the sea. As her Uncle Asa attempts to harness his sister's powers, Cisley tries to solve the mystery of her mother's whereabouts, her father's identity, and her own healing abilities. Townley (The Door in the Forest) mixes the whimsical and the tragic, but the story never quite reconciles the two elements. Cisley struggles to belong, seeking solace with a pet lobster she outfits with a gold collar and takes for seaside walks, while Uncle Asa is obsessed with creating ever-shifting mirrored corridors, a labyrinth maze, and cruel experiments to imbue himself with his Cisley's mother's otherworldly power. Cisley's quirkiness provides some needed levity to an otherwise dark tale, but muddled aspects of the storytelling%E2%80%94including a misplaced last-minute twist and a bloody finale that also tries to tie up the narrative's loose ends with a silver-lining happy ending%E2%80%94keep it from finding a successful balance of reality and illusion. Ages 9%E2%80%9312. (Nov.)