________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 3. . . .September 18, 2009


Smudge’s Mark.

Claudia Osmond.
Vancouver, BC: Simply Read Books, 2009. 352 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-894965-69-9.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Beth Wilcox.

**1/2 /4



Believe it or not, what ended up being my biggest torture at the academy wasn’t Tessa, although we did end up having quite a few more run-ins during my first week there.

And it wasn’t the guys who knocked me down in the dark hallway and stepped over me on my first night at the school either.

And, believe it or not, my biggest torture wasn’t even the teachers. Well, except for The Rat, that is. And maybe the tattooed cook, who was always wielding a butcher knife, whether he was in the kitchen or not. Sometimes I wondered if he slept with it.

No, my biggest torture—the thing that kept me awake at night—was the key.

What purpose could I possibly have that was prophesied in an ancient foretelling?

Simon is an orphan living in Grimstown with his seemingly crazy grandfather and his monstrous housekeeper Griselda. Due to a mysterious accident, Simon’s memory is limited to the last seven months. On the eve of his fourteenth birthday, Simon has a vivid dream where his mother gives him half of a key and tells him that he must “fulfill [his] purpose as prophesied.” Upon awakening, Simon discovers the key has become real. Only hours later, Simon is frustratingly gullible when he is tricked by Griselda into believing his loving grandfather wants him to move immediately to the gothic Grimstown Academy for Orphans. At the academy, Simon bonds with another resident, Gil, and earns the nickname Smudge. When the sinister headmaster Mr. Ratsworth sends Gil and Smudge to detention hall, the boys discover a hole in the floor that transports them to another realm.

     Shortly after entering the realm of Emogen, Gil is swallowed by enchanted vines. Smudge races off to find help and comes across a kind old man named Drofgum who retrieves Gil from the jungle. Drofgum is actually his grandfather, but Smudge does not recognize him until the end of the book when he shows Smudge his comb-over and pointed ears. Drofgum explains that the evil Demlock has tried to steal the elements (fire, earth, air, water) from Emogen’s king-like Sustainer. The Sustainer tried to protect the elements by hiding them in a place that could only be opened by the prophesied Seventh Son using both halves of Smudge’s key. While the elements are hidden, the realm of Emogen wastes away while villainous Demlock gets stronger. Once again, Gil disappears, and Smudge realizes his friend is Demlock’s prisoner. Of course, it is up to Smudge to rescue Gil and save Emogen.

     Smudge sets off to rescue Gil and runs into Tessa, his enemy from the academy, who apparently followed him to Emogen. Grudgingly, the two team up and slowly become friends, working together to kill the horrific dragon that has eaten the other half of Smudge’s key. Once the key is complete, Tessa and Smudge are led to where the elements are hidden by the suspicious town priestess, Aldusa, who is actually Griselda in disguise. Aldusa uses dark magic to trick Smudge into helping Demlock, whom Smudge had known on earth as Mr. Ratsworth. After a fairly exciting, if cliché climax, Smudge defeats Demlock, releases the elements and saves the world of Emogen.

     Younger readers may enjoy this exciting fantasy adventure, and Osmond makes it easy to imagine the world of Emogen. However, the story does contain some unbelievable coincidences, plot twists, and dialogue that may make it difficult for readers to become fully engrossed in Smudge’s story. Furthermore, even though the book is over 350 pages long, none of the characters, including Smudge, is fleshed out and believable. The only females present in the boy-centered adventure, Tessa, Griselda/Aldusa, and a medicine woman, are almost always subservient to males and are often portrayed as overbearing and malicious.

     The novel is composed of two very different halves. At the onset, the story seems humorously absurd, with descriptions of Grandpa’s pranks and Griselda’s theatrical behaviour, but the attempts at comedy and the emphasis on the absurd disappear quickly when the boys enter Emogen, and the story becomes more of a fast-paced fantasy adventure with very little humor. Braver young readers who are not squeamish at the thought of Mr. Ratsworth’s eyeglass stapled to his forehead might enjoy Smudge’s exciting magical adventure and his battle against evil forces.

Recommended with reservations.

Beth Wilcox is a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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