DALYA AND THE MAGIC INK BOTTLE
by J.M. Evenson
Middle Grade Fantasy
ages 8 to 12
When twelve-year-old Dalya is dragged to Istanbul to help sell her family's ancestral home, the visit begins unpromisingly. Most of the aged mansion is off-limits because it's falling apart, her father is ignoring her, and her great aunt keeps prattling on about a family curse. Despite warnings against it, Dalya tiptoes upstairs, where she finds an old bottle of magic ink hidden under a floorboard. She asks the bottle's jinn (aka genie) to grant her a simple wish...to send her home. Except the jinn interprets go home to mean send me back in time and turn me into a cat. Then Dalya must set off on a wild adventure through Istanbul's animal underworld to find the jinn with the power to set things right.
This is such a wonderful mix of magic, fairy tales, time travel, animals and even a dash of Istanbul... a read which allows the imagination to soar.
Dalya isn't excited about staying in a haunted mansion somewhere in Istanbul, and she's even less excited about spending so-called quality time with her father when all he wants to do is work, anyway. Her aunt doesn't help matters, considering she's more than just a bit odd. When a boring day brings along a cat with a glowing tale, Dalya can't help but follow it up the stairs to the 2nd floor. There she discovers an ink bottle, which claims it can grant her one wish. Before she knows it, she accidentally wishes to be home. But the result is anything but what she wants or expected. Now, she's stuck somewhere in time, and that as a cat. And she's not sure how she'll ever have her old life back.
It takes a little bit for this story to really get going as we first meet Dalya entering her aunt's old house in Istanbul. The author allows the reader to get to know Dalya a little first as well as the difficult relationship she has with her father. The aunt's oddities and promise of a secret set the stage for the adventure, but these first pages run a bit slow for my more adventurous reader heart. And I was a little disappointed that Istanbul isn't really presented during this time much at all. But this changes as the cat appears and the magic begins.
Once the ink bottle is in Dalya's clutches, the story takes flight. It's fun to zoom back in time with her and meet a new gang of friends...especially since Dalya now takes the form of a cat and the friends consist of a rat, a girl and several other creatures. The author does a nice job at allowing Dalya as a cat and her new animal friends to come to life in an almost human way (yes, they talk). There's constant action and tension as they need to not only battle with an evil woman, dangerous squirrels, a genie and more. It's a true flight into an exciting adventure with all of the magical flare that a children's story needs to sparkle and shine.