The fabulous powers of the Red King were passed down through his descendants, after turning up quite unexpectedly, in someone who had no idea where they came from. This is what happened to Charlie Bone, and to some of the children he met behind the grim, gray walls of Bloor's Academy. Charlie Bone has discovered an unusual gift-he can hear people in photographs talking! His scheming aunts decide to send him to Bloor Academy, a school for genius's where he uses his gifts to discover the truth despite all the dangers that lie ahead.
The first in the projected Children of the Red King series, this paper-over-board British fantasy reads like ersatz Harry Potter. Charlie Bone, a likable "ordinary" boy of about 10, lives with his loving widowed mom and her mother, a salt-of-the-earth type, and his foreboding but wealthy paternal relations, who are "endowed" (with psychic abilities) and who watch Charlie for signs of the Yewbeam family gift. When Charlie suddenly begins to "hear" subjects in photographs, the Yewbeams delightedly pack him off to Bloor's Academy for similarly gifted children. Before he enrolls, however, voices from photographs lead him into a mystery, pointing to a suspicious baby "adoption" and involving clues about his own father's past; while these are the most original elements here, they, too, are familiar. At the Hogwarts-like Bloor's, Charlie is thrust into an ongoing struggle of good vs. evil, accompanied by new friends (an albino orphan, a drama diva and a musician) and confronted with mesmerizing foes (chiefly, the scion of the power-mad Bloor family). Nimmo writes solidly, but her powers of invention (shown in, for example, her Griffin's Castle) cannot withstand the comparison she invites with J.K. Rowling. Next in the series, The Time Twister. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)