My Wizard Buddy / Wizard Planet / Target: Earth

My Wizard Buddy 1-3

I already reviewed one of Scott Spotson’s stand-alone novels – the thoroughly weird Seeking Dr. Magic – a couple of months ago but for today’s post I’m going to be taking a look at his series aimed at younger readers. The My Wizard Buddy series was written by Spotson and Brian W. Wu and focuses on the magical adventures of a pre-teen boy. It currently consists of three novels – My Wizard Buddy, Wizard Planet and Target: Earth – which were all published in 2014, but there has been no word as to whether or not the series will continue beyond this. Due to the fact that these books are pretty short, I’ll be looking at them all in this review.

Eleven year old Tyler Dunsmore is thoroughly bored with his life. He has no friends at school and is constantly tormented by his bratty sister, Lily. After one particularly big argument he wishes out loud for a best friend and is shocked when Dirk immediately appears in front of him. Dirk is a young wizard from the planet Adgiligda and is more than happy to use his powers to make Tyler happy.

The first novel, My Wizard Buddy, details their early adventures together as Dirk uses his magic to help Tyler get his own back on the school bully and win the friendship of the popular boys in his class. In the sequel, Wizard Planet, Dirk takes Tyler back to his home world in order to show him what it is like to live as a wizard.

The final book – Target: Earth – takes the series in a new direction as an alien race called the Genzi make contact with Earth and state their intent to take sixteen humans away for research. Although the President of America refuses their demands, the aliens abduct a selection of humans of various genders and ages. Among the taken are Tyler, separating him from Dirk. Without his friend’s magic, Tyler must use his own abilities in order to escape the Genzi and return home.

I think I should begin by saying that these are certainly not young adult novels, regardless of what Goodreads seem to think. The title, premise and age of protagonist show that these stories are clearly aimed at a middle grade audience. That said, some of the language used in these novels is a little complex for 10-12 year olds and so this is possibly something to bear in mind if you’re intending to buy these books as a gift for someone. The stories – particularly the first one – also don’t localise very well. As I’m English, I had to Google a few terms and references because I’d never heard of them before so this is something else to consider if you’re gifting this to a non-American child.

My Wizard Buddy is a fun read that is absolutely brimming with imagination. When it comes to stories about boy wizards, everyone immediately thinks of J.K. Rowling’s magnum opus but Spotson and Wu manage to move away from any comparisons by giving their novel a sci-fi edge. Although Dirk uses magic (and, indeed, attends a wizard school on Adgiligda) it is just a feature of his race. Every person from the wizard planet has limitless magic by default and so it feels more like a mutant power than magic in the high fantasy sense.

The use of Dirk’s magic to resolve various problems is a key feature of My Wizard Buddy and the first half of Wizard Planet. These chapters are largely one-shot stories, in which Tyler has many whimsical adventures using Dirk’s magic. These adventures usually wrap up by the end of the chapter and are not referenced again afterwards. For example, in one chapter Tyler is targeted by a bully but Dirk steps in and uses his magic to get revenge. In another, Dirk plays a magical prank on Tyler and his friends in order to make their paintball game more exciting. While the adventures are imaginative and often very entertaining, they lack any kind of depth. This is my biggest problem with the series as a whole, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The setting of the stories is, at times, fantastically creative. This is most noticeable in Wizard Planet. While the first story introduced us to Dirk’s abilities in a familiar setting, Wizard Planet shifted the action to the brilliant world of Adgiligda and showcased just how imaginative the authors could be. This world is built on a wonderful combination of magic and advanced technology and sometimes it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. It’s a place where people can conjure food out of the air, mythological beasts roam the forests and people are obsessed with a game called Death Ball, which can only really describe as being like a cross between battle squash (that’s a thing, right?) and Australian Indoor Rules Quidditch. As you might be able to tell, Death Ball was my favourite thing in this story and I now feel as though I must dedicate my life to making it a real sport.

For a light read, the series is perfectly enjoyable but there is no meat to the plot at all. It is a bit of a brain-in-a-box read – to get enjoyment from it you need to be able to turn off your mind and question nothing. We never discover exactly what it is that attracts Dirk to Tyler over every other boy on the planet and it is hinted in Wizard Planet that Tyler may be a descendant of wizards (and thus have some magic of his own) but nothing is ever made of this. There was also a point in My Wizard Buddy that completely threw me as Dirk appeared at the start of a chapter asking Tyler if they had been forgiven, even though the story had never previously indicated that they had fallen out. Shallow plotting such as this meant that, as fun as the stories could be, I never felt fully invested in the universe.

Added to this are some continuity errors that I felt could have been entirely avoided had the books received better editing. An example of this can be found in the opening of Wizard Planet where the narrative states that Tyler and Dirk fell out when Dirk causes them to be chased by monsters. This did not occur – they actually fell out later in the story when Dirk tried to create a live comic book experience for Tyler. Another error came in the form of a Borolax – a race of reptilian aliens who Dirk dressed up in paintball garb in My Wizard Buddy because he thought it would be amusing. When the Borolax appear in Wizard Planet, they are still all armed with paintball guns though it is never explained why this is.

Although My Wizard Buddy and Wizard Planet both follow the same kind of pattern (though in reverse as the first novel has Dirk as an outsider on Earth, while the second has Tyler as the stranger on Adgiligda), the story changes dramatically in Target: Earth. As Dirk is absent for most of the story, there is little magic to be seen and so the story becomes more of a standard science fiction story. Personally, I felt that this was a bit of a misstep. While it was interesting to see the authors trying something new, it meant that a lot of the random creativity that made the first two stories unique was absent. This void caused the story to lose its charm and made it, unfortunately, very forgettable.

The shallowness that affects the plot also stretches to characterisation. No character really has any notable personality traits within this tale. As I mentioned earlier, Dirk really has no character traits. He just kind of latches onto Tyler at the start of the first book, announcing that he’s there to be his best friend, but he never asks for anything in return or indicates what drew him to him. He just seems to possess limitless magic (which makes me wonder how strong the adult wizards are if he’s still a student) which he solely uses for another boy’s pleasure.

Tyler doesn’t come out of the series much better. While he does start out as a relatable eleven year old, eager to fit in and be accepted by the popular kids in his class, he does not ever really develop beyond this. Even in Target: Earth when he is forced to face an alien race on his own, it is Dirk that eventually is forced to use his magic to save the day. This novel could have made for some good solo development for Tyler but any strength that he showed in the early book seemed to lead to nothing when it was proven that he was unable to save the day on his own.

The novels also did not contain any notable secondary characters. While Tyler’s family did appear in every novel, they did not really have any personality beyond the fact that sister and brother were described as being snotty and bratty (respectively). While each novel did contain different characters beyond this (Ryan’s school friends in My Wizard Buddy, Dirk’s family in Wizard Planet and the other abductees in Target: Earth), there was still no depth to any of them and so they were not very memorable.

So, to summarise, the My Wizard Buddy series makes for some enjoyable light reading for middle graders. It’s an imaginative series that conjures some very enjoyable scenarios and original settings. Just don’t expect any kind of depth as these novels offer nothing beyond what you can see on the surface. The plots occasionally raise interesting points but never seem to develop them through and the cast is wholly forgettable. The series did keep my interest throughout, but there are a far better ones out there.

My Wizard Buddy can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

Wizard Planet can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

Target: Earth can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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