Kirov, Erica. Magickeepers: the Eternal Hourglass. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2009.
In short order, young Nick Rostov discovers that he possesses heretofore unsuspected magical powers and that he, as the most powerful sprig of an impressive magical family tree, is in great danger from his family's enemies.
This is familiar magical territory, but some refreshing new territory is introduced. To teach him to use his magic – and to protect him from the dreaded Shadowkeepers – Nick is brought to the luxurious compound of his large and eccentric magical family, who are all of Russian descent and quite proud of it. And where is this compound located? In the heart of Las Vegas (although I’m not entirely sure Las Vegas has a heart), in a fabulous hotel, where the family stages a magic show that is so spectacular precisely because real magic is employed, not just tricks and sleight of hand.
Being spirited away from his dad to live with a bunch of weird relatives, being forced to eat strange food (caviar blinis and borscht), learning Russian, and dodging creepy oily Shadows isn’t Nick’s idea of a great way to celebrate turning 13. However, he does figure out a way to turn the tables on Rasputin, the ultimate Bad Guy, by preventing him from stealing a magical hourglass that would have given Rasputin untold power to do evil.
Although the setting is colorful and there is lots of potential in the idea of a magical Russian family preventing powerful treasures from getting into the wrong hands, neither the writing nor the plot live up to the promise. My questions began almost at once, when I wondered why Nick had to change schools all the time. Sure, his dad (a mediocre magician) kept losing jobs and so had to work at one seedy Las Vegas hotel to another, but why did they have to live in each of these hotels, rather than in a cheap apartment or with Nick’s grandfather, another Las Vegas denizen? And even so, why would Nick need to change schools if all the hotels were located in or around the Strip?
These kinds of niggling questions kept popping up over and over as I got deeper into the story. Was it really likely that Nick would know nothing of his heritage or this huge family living just blocks away? And wouldn’t have Rasputin and his minions cottoned onto Nick’s existence long ago? And how could Nick have all this innate magical power and never have accidentally discovered it?
I was ready to thoroughly enjoy Nick’s Russian relatives, but unfortunately they never came fully alive for me. Even Nick doesn’t demonstrate much spark or curiosity – his magical skills leave him rather cold (he does very little experimenting) and he seems to have no interest in the only other person his age in the compound, a girl named Isabella. What was her childhood like? Why aren’t there more children? When did she start learning magic? And why on earth is this powerful family leading this rather pointless and shallow existence performing for a Las Vegas hotel when they could be out using their magic for the good of humanity?
The author weaves historical figures and events into the story in a compelling way and the family and setting are appropriately exotic, but there is simply not enough depth or richness to the characters or the plot to make this fantasy rise above the many other fantasies for young readers.