The Box of Tricks has the mind-boggling technology one expects in a sci-fi book, along with the battle between good and evil. But under all the expected sci-fi trappings, Alistair Potter still delivers well-developed characters and even a message to his readers, all wrapped in humor and wit.
The story centers around Tom Mathers, a mild-mannered, somewhat socially inept taxi driver from Edinburgh. Thrust into his strange new reality, Tom matures. But even by the end of the book, his timidity is often the appropriate trait and common sense is generally the correct tactic. Other than a strong sense of loyalty to friends and a desire to do right, Tom was an everyday hero, and I appreciated that fact. Romantic interest Suzie and co-protagonist Fanshawe also come across as believable, although toward the riskier end of the scale.
Pacing is also excellent. The author moves steadily through challenges revealed, skirmishes waged, and alliances formed, saving a few unexpected twists for the end. The aptness of the pacing is also apparent in Potter’s treatment of his social message about our stewardship of the planet. It would be easy for that message to become overbearing…but it doesn’t. The author maintains a velocity that keeps us engrossed and entertained.
I wouldn’t say the book is a laugh-a-minute tome – what American reader would say that about British humor? But it does have a tongue-in-cheek witticism that was very appealing. If you want to take the possible end of planet earth completely seriously, you may need to look elsewhere.