The Late Great Wizard sets the stage impressively but delivers an OK performance


The Late Great Wizard sets the stage for an interesting story, but the amount of detail packed into its 328 pages make it difficult to stay engaged.

Sara Hanover’s debut novel, The Late Great Wizard, hit shelves Tuesday,  Sept,11 — and you’d be right to be excited about the premise. The first book in a portal fantasy series that targets a young adult audience, The Late Great Wizard offers readers a setting and magic system sure to spark some interest from fantasy lovers.

It follows Tessa Andrews as she’s dragged into a magical adventure by Professor Brandard, one of the elderly characters on her charity meals route. When she shows up to find his home destroyed by a fire, she discovers that the man is a “phoenix wizard.”

Brandard is reborn as a younger man, and he requires Tessa’s assistance in getting his full power back — and stopping an “ancient evil” on the horizon. As Tessa helps him search for his own magic, she soon discovers that she too is connected to this secret magical world, and her quest with Brandard also holds answers about her father that she wasn’t sure she wanted.

Like I said, it’s an interesting premise. And given that the novel is the first in a series, it definitely sets readers up for some excitement in the sequels. However, while The Late Great Wizard succeeds in setting the stage, it’s less impressive at holding the audience’s attention.

Hanover packs so many impressive elements into this small book, and that’s part of the problem. Too much happens, too fast, and it’s difficult to get to know — or care — about the world and the characters. The pacing just doesn’t do the plot justice, and readers might find themselves wondering how on Earth they wandered from point A to point B in just a few pages.

The fast pacing and the ambitious number of characters make it difficult to stay engaged with the actual story. Readers might find themselves skipping pages to get to “the good parts,” which typically doesn’t make for the best reading experience.

That said, the atmosphere that Hanover paints does wonders in making up for the pacing’s shortcomings. Though it’s set in modern-day Virginia, the setting speaks to a darker and older time —  one more likely to be associated with wizards and quests. Even the way the characters speak and interact will make you feel like you’re in the past.

The concept of “phoenix wizards” and missing magic is also a unique one, and that made the story authentic enough to continue on with. With so many fantasy books for young adults coming out, it’s easy to find repetitions of the same magic systems. But Hanover’s story follows its own rules, and it stands out from most of the others.

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If you do pick up The Late Great Wizard, don’t over-hype the book for yourself. Instead, go in with an open mind. Who knows, maybe it will prove itself beyond your expectations.