Inquisitor's Apprentice: tenement sorcerers versus the robber barons in an alternate Gilded Age New York

Chris Moriarty's The Inquisitor's Apprentice is the first volume in a fantastic new historical young adult series that takes place in a turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York where magic is the key to power and the infamous robber-barons of the age have cornered the market on enchantment and use their power to deprive hardworking poor immigrants of their self-reliance. Sasha Kessler is the 13-year-old hero of the tale, a tenement-dwelling kid who lives with his hardworking parents, his anarchist-wiccan actor uncle, his sister, and his Kabbalist rabbi grandfather. On the other side of their one-room flat live a married couple who sew shirtwaists with every hour they can wring from their days, saving to bring their family over from the pogroms in the old country.

Sasha's life is upended one day when he finds that he can see magic, and has the misfortune to demonstrate this ability in front of a crowd at a furtive magic Jewish bakery, in full sight of an Inquistor, one of the special police officers charged with regulating magic in New York. In short order, Sasha is inducted into the ranks of the Inquisitors, assigned to apprentice to the enigmatic and notorious Inspector Wolf, along with his co-apprentice, a girl from the famous society family, the Astrals (a pun on the Astors).

So begins Sasha's tale, which takes him on the trail of a dybbuk that tried to assassinate Thomas Edison while the inventor was visiting JP Morgaunt, the robber baron who has taken control of New York's magical world. This trail leads through the fraught racial relations in New York, to kung-fu lessons with the Immortals who run Chinatown, to Coney Island and Harry Houdini, and a slew of characters and settings that are marvellously remade as loci of magic and mystery.

Moriarty's plotting is just fantastic, and the story itself manages to tackle difficult issues of race and class and politics without ever slowing down. Period ink illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer complete the package, giving the whole thing a deceptively lightweight, pulpy feel. It's a great magic trick, a piece of misdirection that makes a book that's full of weighty material zip along like a quick adventure tale. This is one of those incredibly promising first volumes that makes you hope that the writer's got plenty more where it came from.

The Inquisitor's Apprentice


  1. Im trying hard to suppress the urge to yawn…  Did he put zombies in it too?  It seems like he has shoehorned every other genre into the story.

  2. Well, contrary to Douchey McDowner in the first comment, to me it sounds fantastic and timely.  My tween niece’s friends have been looking for something just like this now that their post-Potter depression is lifting, so I sent the review to her.

    It reminds me how disappointed I am every time I check to see if Susanna Clarke has come out with a full-length followup to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. 

  3. You’re the writer not me, but I think you mean “gilded”? Unless it’s a clever pun I just didn’t get.

  4. “Enchantment?” “Wiccan?” “Kabbalist?” “a furtive magic Jewish bakery?” “Magic and mystery?” Why fill young readers’ heads with irrational mumbo jumbo?

    1. …because it’s a make-believe story ? You know, there’s thise small-time literary genre built entirely around it…they call it “fantasy”.
      I suppose you’d forbid your kids to read Harry Potter or His Dark Materials too ?

      1. I wouldn’t ‘forbid’ my kids to read anything, but I would discourage them from reading books as poorly written and nonsensical as Harry Potter.

        1. Better get those kids started on Nietzche and the dictionary right away.  Can’t encourage any such nonsense as reading for pleasure and being imaginative, after all. Just a waste of time, like smiling, laughing, and enjoying life.

          This book sounds great to me.

          1. If I were Mark Twain I wouldn’t mess about with jumping frogs and time-travelling Yankees. I would have started with The Mysterious Stranger, eight o’clock, day one!

            (accidentally destroys planet full of little clay people)


    2. “Enchantment?” “Wiccan?” “Kabbalist?” “a furtive magic Jewish bakery?” “Magic and mystery?” Why fill young readers’ heads with irrational mumbo jumbo?

      For that matter, why let them read distracting, lying fictions at all?

      There’s chores to be done, or the Bible. Take your pick.

      1. Your “choice” is fallacious. Fiction is OK, just cut the supernatural crap… be it Christian, Wiccan, Kabbalist, Santa Claus, Judaism, Islam or the Easter bunny. The natural universe is ‘enchanting’ and mysterious enough, without all that mind-polluting supernatural garbage.

        1. You sound remarkably like a religious fanatic. Do you home-school your children to prevent ‘contamination’ by bad ideas?

          1. Condemning supernatural religious dogma makes me sound like a ‘religious fanatic?’ Strange, but that puts me in pretty good company with Richard Dawkins, who equates teaching children religion with child abuse.

          2. No, insisting that your children follow your dogma makes you sound like a religious fanatic. And, yes, I regard indoctrinating children with religious beliefs as child abuse, just like indoctrinating them with anti-religious beliefs. Maybe they could just explore the world and make their own decisions when they’re old enough to make serious philosophical inquiries.

          3. Where did I insist that my children follow my dogma? Earlier I said that I wouldn’t forbid my children read anything, and that still holds. I have no problem with your second and third sentences, in fact, I agree 100%. But if thinking that Wicca, Kabbalah, “Magic” and other  religious beliefs are irrational mumbo jumbo labels me a fanatic, go right ahead… as I also said earlier, I’m in good company. 

        2. The natural universe is ‘enchanting’ and mysterious enough, without all that mind-polluting supernatural garbage.

          So, which fictions are okay? Those that stick to facts?

          Let’s see, that leaves us with…. Ah, here we are. A book I’m sure your family will enjoy reading around the oil-lamp:

          “Logarithmick Arithmetick: Containing a New and Correct Table of Logarithms of the Natural Numbers From 1 to 10,000, Extended to Seven Places Besides the Index and So Contrived, That the Logarithm May be Easily Found to Any Number Between 1 and 10,000,000.”

    3. Where would we be if the Grimm bros, Hans Christian Anderson, or Lewis Carroll had your sense of what’s proper for young children?  “Irrational mumbo jumbo” was good enough for all your science heros, John T. It might even be considered that by putting Kabala, Wicca, and other mystic traditions in a fictional context, children are inoculated against them when they encounter them in adult life.

  5. I understand books like this are supposed to teach kids about “fraught racial relations in New York” and “tackle difficult issues of race and class and politics”, and fantasy is a good way to do it… but undoubtedly someone is going to read this and consider themselves stereotyped, especially since this book seems to portray Jewish people in both a good and bad light. People can be touchy about their religion, ya know…. There’s a fine line between what gets called ethnic folklore and what gets called racist fiction.

    1. Having people wildly misunderstand you is always a risk when publishing anything and no matter how innocuous or innocent something is going to seem to the author, someone will find a way to be offended by it.  

      My Wife’s next book, has a Chinese girl in the 1870s as one of the protagonists.  Countless hours of research went into rendering the character, but I am quite sure someone will find a way tall call my wife racist :P

      Some of Chris Moriarty’s approach and thinking, in terms of race and religion, can be found in this interview here:

      Either way, I’ve read an advanced copy of the Inquisitors Apprentice and it I loved it. Thoroughly recommend it!  I cannot wait to see more of Sasha, Lily Astral, Inquisitor Wolf and James Pierpont Morgaunt.

  6. To CSBD, Chris Moriarty is a woman. To CoyoteDen, people are touchy about EVERYTHING. That’s not a reason for any author to shy away from writing about those subjects; it’s just a reason to take the time and effort to write about those subjects well. 

    The Jewish experience in America is at the heart of this book. It’s one of the primary reasons this book was written, if I understood Chris’s answer when I asked her about it myself in the interview Nathan linked to above. 

    And back to you once more, CSBD–the reason so many things are “shoehorned in” is that it’s also a book about NYC and the immigrant experience there. 

    If this kind of fantasy isn’t your thing, fine, but if it is, this book is awesome. 

  7. That sounds like an awesome read, and the cover is gorgeous. Robber-barrons as the Big Bad? Fantastic.

  8. Sounds like fun, with an interesting setting.

    Nay sayers begone! And take your dick-weedery with you…

    /swoosh! <- me waving magic wand I got from Harry Potter

  9. This sounds vaguely like a ‘young adult’ version of Ishmael Reed’s excellent Mumbo Jumbo. Just get your kid that book and be done with it.

  10.  incredibly promising first volumes

    Just to disambiguate: Chris Moriarty has some excellent prior books (hard SF, not in this series), Spin State and Spin Control.

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