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Abracadanger

Series: Scream Shop Pick Your Path #1
Author: West, Tracey
Illustrator: Dow, Brian W.
Release Date: August, 2003
ISBN: 0448432242 / 9780448432243
Length:138 pages
Number of Endings:19
User Summary: Ben, a young magician, finds the kit of a famous magician known as Dr. Presto and discovers that it works all too well....
Demian's Thoughts: This is an underwhelmingly average book. The "magic gone out of control" plot has been done before with remarkably similar results, and there's really nothing to make this adventure differ from its predecessors. Every good characteristic (like the fact that Ben and his friends take a rational view of their situation until they are no longer able to, or the decent plot consistency) is counteracted by a bad one (the excessive familiarity of the plot, or the lack of especially interesting characters or places). The book is fairly successful in what it does, but what it does isn't all that exciting. This may be of interest to readers who have never seen such a book before, but to a veteran, it's just a bit more of the same old stuff.

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KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts: Scream Shop Pick Your Path's arrival was sort of counterintuitive to its placement on the timeline of American youth literature. The gamebook boom of the 1980s was about twenty years past, the era when Choose Your Own Adventure, Twistaplot, Fighting Fantasy, Endless Quest, Lone Wolf, and other interactive series were at their most popular and visible. The trend toward juvenile horror lit had also been mostly over for a few years by the time Scream Shop Pick Your Path book one, Abracadanger, came out in 2003. Yet I think a series like this was much needed when it debuted, providing entertaining and even somewhat thoughtful fare for young reluctant readers. Knowing that a few poor choices will lead to an irredeemably bad ending as they direct the decisions of the story's preteen protagonist, readers know they have to be on their game while playing a book like Abracadanger. When dark forces such as those behind the existence of Sebastian Cream's Junk Shop are on the prowl, there's no telling how many villains one will have to subdue to find one's way to a satisfactory conclusion.

Ben Michaels is a reasonably ordinary twelve-year-old kid, living in dull, dingy Bleaktown. Ben has aspirations to become a famous magician, one as great as 1920s international superstar Harry Houdini, but there aren't many places to learn big tricks in his podunk hometown. That changes instantly when Ben spies a new store nestled beside the familiar old boring retailers, the eye-catching hobby shop of the eccentric Sebastian Cream. When Ben catches sight of a special magic kit in the front window, a kit claiming to have once belonged to the mysteriously vanished Dr. Presto, legendary prestidigitator of the early twentieth century, Ben can't resist fronting all his earnings from his paper route to purchase the kit. A magic set that belonged to a master like Dr. Presto was rumored to be? How could Ben have possibly gotten this lucky?

Luck isn't all there is to it, however, as we see shortly after Ben brings Dr. Presto's kit home and starts tinkering with it. Ben's amateur attempts to repeat the magic set's Latin incantations turn everything topsy-turvy right away, regardless of whether you say he should believe "thrice" means three times or thirteen. You could suddenly have a humungous rabbit on your hands, one that doesn't mind engaging in the sorts of innocent destruction common to cunicular creatures. Most rabbits don't mean any harm, but they tend to be destructive nonetheless, and a gigantic rabbit with an axe to grind over being trapped in a magician's hat for years and years is not most people's ideal companion. Stick close to your furry disaster and don't let him out of Ben's sight; he's kind of your responsibility, and things have a way of not turning out well in this book when you let Ben run and hide from the consequences of his actions. But be careful. There are people who would give anything to possess the power of the magic kit Ben just bought for thirty dollars, and some of them might be more dangerous than an oversized rabbit. Dr. Presto's wand appears to be the source of all the real magic released by the kit, and letting the wand fall into the wrong hands could do worse than bring an end to Ben's budding career in magic: it could get the entire human race enslaved by a madman.

If you have Ben get into other magic tricks, safely passing by the potentiality of titanic rabbits and instead settling on trying to make people disappear, you're still in for some dicey moments. Whether Ben vanishes his friendly mailman, Skip, or decides Dr. Presto's kit is a bit too weird for him to be experimenting on others with and elects to try out the disappearing spell on himself, he's likely to run across the spectral Dr. Presto sooner or later. His magic kit has a dark, troubled history--as does the man himself--and an even more sinister purpose, which you'll figure out if you run through enough of Abracadanger's endings. Each one reveals a little more of the magic kit's backstory, forming a complete picture. The peerless Presto, who in his time performed tricks seemingly beyond the range of even the most brilliant magicians, is ready to unleash his sorcery again upon a world on the verge of being caught unawares, but is his comeback attempt something you should support, or rally against? You'll have to maneuver Ben cautiously, as trusting the wrong individuals could land him dead or exiled for eternity in the same supernatural prison that held Dr. Presto all these years. Does Ben have what it takes to put down a rebellion of nasty spirits before his unintentional rendezvous with dark magic spins totally out of control?

I was pleasantly surprised by Abracadanger in many ways. Ben is an interesting character, and controlling him made for gameplay that was just as effective as when the main character is a second-person-narrated "You". I liked Ben, so I wanted to do my best to make good choices for him, leading him out of imminent danger. In general, you know Ben is out of the woods in Abracadanger when he gives up on ever controlling Dr. Presto's kit, and makes up his mind to return it to the Scream Shop, refund or no refund. Once Presto's wand is no longer in anyone's hands, the threat of more terror is pretty much gone. Ben's friend, Lori, is a good character, too; in fact, most of the characters in this book are more multidimensional than in the average gamebook. Gameplay in Abracadanger is easy to understand and execute, with a decision here or there being predicated on the luck of a favorable fifty-fifty choice instead of strategic superiority. Internal plot consistency is excellent, thought out more clearly and logically than the majority of interactive fiction, but even after you've learned pivotal bits of information--such as whether a character with yet-unrevealed intentions is good or bad--it doesn't make the story feel stale when you go on to read additional endings. Overall, the writing is solid and sensitive, with a wistful ending here or there as Ben thinks to the future and realizes that Harry Houdini he may never be, but reveling in the excitement and mystery of stage magic still can be for him, and his encounter with black sorcery need not cause him to give up his dream of being a magician. He isn't as powerful without Dr. Presto's wand, but Ben is a competent magician in his own right, capable of impressing uninitiated audiences with his feats of illusion. Who knows how far his passion for magic could take him? Guiding Ben to take responsibility for the calamities brought about by his dabbling with Presto's kit is nearly always the best course of action in Abracadanger, keeping after the problems he has created and trying to slam shut the lid on Pandora's Box before too much evil escapes. That isn't always easy, but there are usually pathways to success even after making a bad decision or two. Don't let Ben count himself out too quickly; his sorcerer enemies are strong and ruthless, but a good kid like Ben can defeat them if he sets his mind to it. He can even positively affect the destinies of others harmed in the past by the kit's black magic, embittered by untold years of hopeless captivity to it, the point of their lives gradually shrinking to nothing more than exacting revenge on the one who did them wrong. But if Ben can figure out how to free the magic kit's captives, he can figure out, too, a way to give their lives more meaning than they've had in a long, long time. And won't everyone be better off for that?

This first Scream Shop Pick Your Path entry is a good one, in my opinion, with an agreeable mix of character development, surprises, mystical adventure, and coincidence. I appreciate the way Tracey West tells the story, and look forward to reading the rest of the series. Without question, I recommend this book.

More reviews by KenJenningsJeopardy74

Waluigi Freak 99's Thoughts: There's nothing really interesting here. It's not bad, but it doesn't push down the boundary of being memorable. The choices are enjoyable to follow just to see what turns out, but I really felt detached from the story as a whole.

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