Mel is living his dream. He’s been plucked from his meager existence in his sleepy town and has been brought to the big city to study as an apprentice under a great Master painter. Once there however, Mel finds that life in the big city is not exactly what he pictured.
The head apprentice Groot has it out for him because he knows how much more talented Mel is, and Groot’s big-shot uncle also has Mel on his short list and will go to any lengths to fatten his own pockets and squash Mel like a bug.
But not everything is dim for Mel. He’s made friends for the first time in his life: Wren, a kitchen girl, and Ludo, a fellow apprentice. When running from Groot one day, the friends see the Master doing something in his office they were not supposed to see, and are suddenly thrown into a mystery and a great adventure that could be the difference between life, death, and saving the beauty of art itself.
I’ve got to say right from the start that Mirrorscape was, for the most part, a disappointment. I was interested in the very beginning when poor Mel was torn away from his parents and dragged to the city to hone his skills as an artist. I was intrigued when Mel and Ludo discovered the secret of the paintings they could jump into and experience the sheer world of imagination, and I did think it was awfully clever of Mike Wilks to include backward writing (or mirror writing) in his book which required the reader to hold a mirror up to the book in order to read what was written. I found that to be a stroke of genius, and know that kids will go crazy for it (some people probably thought I was crazy as I came across this part of the book while sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and was holding my compact up to the book)!
But after the first half of Mirrorscape, the story got silly while the characters remained shallow. I mean, it’s one thing to have an imaginary world that one can experience, for me it was quite another to have the main characters running through several paintings at once and meeting creatures such as walking houses, mountains that attack you, and pyramids that slow down/speed up time. After several chapters of this, instead of being endearing and interesting, it just got tiresome.
Ok, I know what you’re going to say: “But Julie! It’s FANTASY! What do you expect?” Well, dear Reader, I understand that Mirrorscape was meant to be a high fantasy for kids and was meant to release imagination as well as show that art is something to be admired and appreciated… but I honestly feel that great fantasy must have at least some basis in reality and the characters must be deep and believable. I wasn’t scared of the antagonist, I wasn’t excited to enter the mirror world with these protagonists, and after several silly scenes which I felt did not further the main plot in any way, I just lost interest.
Basically, I felt that Mike Wilks spent too much of his time basing the story in the mirror world and not enough time in the “real” world of the main characters, and therefore the characters themselves just fell flat. For me, that’s a classic sin in any kind of writing. Flat characters = Flat story, be it YA literature or anything else.