A title that keeps you guessing.

“It’s overwhelming. A city’s worth of angry faces staring at me like I’m a wicked criminal – which, I promise you, I’m not.”

Strolling through the streets of Brighton, copies of this book were being given out for free. Never one to turn down a free book (or indeed one I have to pay for), I took one and it has sat on my shelf since then, about three years ago. I finally read it and was transported, rather bumpily, to a very twisted version of America.

Witch & Wizard is about brother and sister Whitford and Wisteria Allgood, two apparently ordinary teenagers who are kidnapped from their house in the middle of the night by agents for the strange and mysterious New Order, the current ruling political party. They are put before The One Who Judges, on trial for having magical powers. They have no idea of their abilities but soon Wisty is catching fire and Whit is falling through walls.

They are taken to a prison with magic-dampening properties and locked in a grimy cell. If they want food, they’ve got to face angry, vicious dogs, and the idea of escape is impossible. That is, until the ghost of Whit’s ex-girlfriend turns up and says that the siblings are part of a prophecy and will be responsible for saving the world. She sets about helping the teens escape, all while they’re trying to learn how to use their powers.

And if you think that none of that makes any sense, it only gets more complicated from there on in.

As I always like to clarify for books like this, as if defending them, I am not the target audience. I’ve never read James Patterson’s adult work, but apparently this is his attempt at writing for children. His son is a reluctant reader and this appears to be an attempt to appeal to kids. So, would a fifteen-year-old version of me like this book? Still, probably not.

The plot seems to make itself up as it goes along, and not in the good way. The characters are thrown about and much of the action takes place over a few days, with a section between implying that there are several weeks of events in between the key moments. While most of that time revolves around the two in prison, which is hardly an exciting narrative, it seems to make the whole plot scurry along without any breathing space. It’s rushed and the narrative is split between the siblings, their similar names occasionally confusing speed readers.

I like magic and mystery as much as anybody, but this story seems to not be so sure. Because of the short time period, the siblings have very little time to get to know what they’re capable of. They discover most of their abilities by accident and while they don’t have any control of them at first, they seem to become competent very quickly. Too quickly. While I’m on record as saying that I find child narrators irritating, Wisty is a particularly egregious example.

It’s a story where too much is trying to be packed into one novel, where characters take sudden changes of heart, where Patterson is trying so hard to be “down with the kids”. It’s not our Earth, with new pop culture references like rapper Lay-Z or book series Gary Blotter, but still mentions of Charles Dickens and Red Bull. There’s a big department store called Garfunkel’s, which means something to the characters but nothing to us. Patterson throws too much into the first novel of a series, mixing up magic powers, a totalitarian government, prophecies, too many characters, several alternate universes and a talking weasel.

Whit and Wisty may not be criminals, but this book is.