A lot of intriguing themes, characters, and philosophical issues emerge in what seems to be a paradigm-shifting installment in Zetta Elliott's imaginative magic series. Sometimes the reader may feel as bombarded as 9-year-old Jax by random facts, people, and ideas that don't quite come together. Struggling with his emerging destiny as The Witch's Apprentice, Jax starts to wonder who and what he should be trusting, amid spectacle (e.g. a grand ball at the witches' convention), history (e.g. the Chicago World's Fair, the back-to-Africa movement, and Frederick Douglass's views on the subject), and a (former?) villain who's spinning a plausible tale of freedom, power, and access to magic. Cherise Harris's lively illustrations help bring it all to life, from the magic Underground Railroad to the baby phoenix and the grand ball. Very little gets resolved in what's essentially a cliffhanger prequel, launching the friends' adventures in a more complex world with more complex characters.
"I want to visit Africa someday. Mama took a DNA test and discovered our ancestors came from Nigeria and Cameroon. We don't know their names, but it would still be kind of cool to go across the ocean and learn more about those countries. Would I feel at home in Nigeria? I don't know. Would I fit in because I'm Black, or would I stand out because I'm American?
"Suddenly I think about Mo and wonder how the dragon Kavita stole is doing now that it's in the realm of magic. The little dragon must be glad to be reunited with its siblings, but maybe it misses Brooklyn, too. I'd miss the city if someone suddenly snatched me away."