The Wizards of Once

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Wizards of Once Book Poster Image
Winning combination of action and humor in fun fantasy.

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age 9+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Introduction to elevated vocabulary words, such as "glutinous," "bilious," "dexterity." Fresh, vivid metaphors and similes throughout: "her face turned to a diamond stiffness," a knot comes undone "like a small snake uncoiling," a room shakes in the wind "as if a lunatic were rocking a baby’s cradle."

Positive Messages

Adventures are fun and can bring out the best in you. Misfits can grow into their power, and can earn the respect of their parents and others. People who seem to be enemies may have good qualities and end up being allies.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both Xar and Wish have recognizable and relatable human flaws, but are brave and curious and active. Wish is an active girl protagonist. Though both have parents who are disapproving, the kids follow their own lights and prove their mettle. Though they start out enemies, they are open to each other and become loyal friends.

Violence & Scariness

When Wish lances a Witch with her sword, it "sank through the spell into something soft ... and it came out with a sickening, squelching noise." There are "giant heads hanging in the main hall, dead as doornails," and Wish finds other severed heads in the dungeon. The palace guards admit that they're "not above killing an unarmed Wizard. In fact, they did it quite a lot" when the queen wasn't looking.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Wizards of Once is the first book in a new fantasy series by Cressida Cowell, author of the best-selling How To Train Your Dragon series, which spawned two popular animated films, with a third scheduled for 2019. Cowell aims to please, and this new series opener combines fantasy with humor in her rollicking signature mix. The novel is liberally illustrated by Cowell herself, so there's lots of illustration to break up the text and speed the reading. The book pits Warriors against Wizards, upping the stakes with some Witches. The battles are mostly fun and cartoony, though there are some odd, jarring references to severed heads, some of which are hung as trophies on a wall, others found in a dungeon. There are two protagonists, a boy and a girl, and both are equally brave and quirky.

User Reviews

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Kid, 12 years old July 11, 2018

really good! got me onto fantasy!

I think it is a amazing book as I read it when I was 11 and I though it was really good as it was about to kids who made friends secretly to save one another. I... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE WIZARDS OF ONCE, Prince Xar and Princess Wish are from warring tribes. Xar's a Wizard and Wish is a Warrior. The Wizards hate the Warriors, who are invaders, while the Warriors fear and try to extinguish the Wizards' Magic. When the two young protagonists sneak out of their respective royal residences and meet, their fates become intertwined. Though they remain wary of each other, they slowly find ways to work together to combat a common enemy: Witches! But aren't all Witches long dead? And if they're not, how will the tribes fight them? Will Xar grow into his magic powers? And will Wish's bravery earn her the respect of the demanding queen, her mother?

Is it any good?

Fans of fantasy will gobble up this new series opener, with its crowd-pleasing formula mixing action and humor. In The Wizards of Once, author Cressida Cowell once again shows she knows how to entertain. She has lots of fun with the narration, salting the story with cheeky asides and offering teasing hints about the narrator's true identity. Some of the character names have an improvisatory feel -- there are sprites named Squeezjoos, Hinkypunk, and Mustardthought -- adding to the book's giggly charm. One late chapter is humorously titled "Oh Dear…The Story Turns in an Unexpected Direction." Her art, too, is funny -- including pages from a book of spells and scribbled-in text that comments wryly on the action.

Though the book is fantasy, it has a distinctly contemporary feel. Sure, the kids have friends who are sprites and giants, but readers will relate to these recognizably human misfits. In a sly nod to puberty, Xar is worried that although he's turned 13, his magic hasn't come in. The kids have to deal with parents who are deeply disappointed, as well as a raft of annoying, constricting rules. But when the first section of the book is entitled "Disobedience," you know rules are off and fun reigns.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the family relationships in The Wizards of Once. How do Xar and Wish feel about their dad and mom? Do your parents ever expect you to be or do something you're not able to?

  • What parts of the book feel like classic fantasy to you? What parts feel modern and slangy?

  • Who do you think is narrating the story? Why do you think the author gives us hints about the narrator's identity but never actually reveals it?

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