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Literature / The Candy Shop War

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The Candy Shop War is a children's/young adult fantasy novel by Brandon Mull, who also wrote Fablehaven. If you're familiar with the latter, you probably know what you're in for here: Quirky, Young At Heart's Urban Fantasy with a striking amount of darkness.

Cynical Nate is the new kid in the tiny town of Colson, California. On his first day, he has the good luck to fall in with the Blue Falcons, a group of friends with a nondescript club (It's gone from treasure-hunting to tresspassing and more). Clever Trevor, fearless Summer, and brainy Pigeon (real name: Paul) quickly come to like snarky Nate, and accept him into the club after he charges local bullies Denny, Kyle, and Eric. Nate isn't the only new thing in town, though: There's also a new candy shop, the Sweet Tooth Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe. The kids stop in for some candy after a rough first day at school, and are pleased to find that the shopkeeper, Ms. White, is as kindly as she is good at making candy. But she accidentally lets slip word of "Secret Candy". What's this now? She promises she'll tell them if they ask again after getting to know her more. So they do a few chores for her shop. She gives them a "special assignment:" Go get some beetle eggs in mushrooms. They do, and she gives them a taste.

The "special candy" is magical. The first confection she gives them: Moon Rocks, which allow the person eating them to jump great distances. She's a magician, and she manufactures these magical sweets. She's not the only one in town. To say nothing of the guy who shows up in town to hunt magicians...

If the cutesy premise (magical candy that gives kids superpowers!) sounds sweet and fluffy... Don't be fooled. Things will get much, much worse before the end, and our four Kid Heroes will quickly find themselves in far over their head...

The sequel, The Arcade Catastrophe, takes place one year after the events of the original. A new family fun center, called Arcadeland, opens up in Colson, and many local kids seem to be addicted to trying to collect tickets from the machines. The Blue Falcons quickly figure out that a new magician is in town and trying to recruit children to their ends. This would be suspicious enough, except that two extremely powerful people have just gone missing: John Dart, who polices nefarious magicians, and Mozag, the most powerful magician in the world. The Blue Falcons quickly connect the dots, and soon find themselves dragged into a new web of magical mayhem: This magician gives out ink stamps which bestow powerful effects. The problem? There are many, many other kids who've been taken in. And while the Falcons know what magicians are capable of, these new kids aren't...

Not to be confused with The Chocolate War.

This book provides examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The Bestial Biscuits in the second book: When Nate asks why Mr. Stott calls them "biscuits" instead of "cookies," since he's not British, Mr. Stott admits he only did it because he likes alliteration.
  • Adults Are Useless: The parents are under the effects of white fudge, so they can't help even when Nate realizes he might need them. Subverted later on with Mr. Stott and John Dart.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Trevor. He's described as "olive-skinned", and his mother is somewhat darker. He's not white, because when he eats an ethnicity-swapping Melting Pot Mixer, he's turned into a freckly redhead. But he could be anything, really.
  • Amnesiac Dissonance: Linda isn't such a bad kid.
    • This trope is a major cornerstone of her character development in the sequel. When she finally does learn the truth, she is horrified... but she realizes that her past doesn't have to define her and that she can become anyone she wants to. She even thanks Nate for giving her a second chance.
  • Badass Longcoat: Justified, in a sense, for John, as he's never really outgrown his 1920's mobster fashion sense.
  • Body Horror: The Flatman. Unholy combination of man and flounder, floating in formaldahyde. * shudder* The Slopgut probably counts, too.
  • Bound and Gagged: Happens to quite a lot of poeple later in the book, both hero and villain, kid and adult. As in, it happens to both good adult characters and bad ones, the kid heroes and the bullies. Yup.
  • Brick Joke: In the very first chapter, John complains about needing a better job. The final chapter is entitled, "Better Jobs for John." Geriatric nurse, cab-driver, coyote-caretaker, babysitter...
  • Can't Live Without You: The family of Haag and the key to the room that holds the Fountain of Youth. Gary mentions once that in order to teach him the importance of keeping the key safe, his uncle threw it in a sink, and they both starting drowning on dry land.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Nate occupies the body of the hobo, none of his friends believe his warnings about the future.
    • In the sequel, none of the other kids are generally willing to listen to the Blue Falcon's warnings about magicians.
  • Catchphrase: Pigeon's "I just like to read books about [INSERT TOPIC HERE]!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: "It's not everyone who gets a chance to start over with a Clean Slate!"
  • Conspicuous Trenchcoat: John has the fedora to go along with it, too.
  • Covers Always Lie: The scene depicted on the cover of the cover of the second book doesn't actually happen. Well, it does, but it's merely heavily implied, and only at the very end of the book—literally, just before the epilogue.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nate; the other kids actually have to tell him to actually lighten up on his friends from time to time.
    • And John, for great justice.
  • Distressed Dude: John Dart and Mozag spend a great deal of the second book kidnapped.
  • Emergency Transformation: This is where the Flatman came from, it was the only way Mr. Stott could think of to save the life of a favored apprentice. Said apprentice seems to be happy with his new life.
  • Eye Scream: Destroying Mrs. White's spying bubble actually shoots her eye out.
  • Fire, Ice, Lightning: The three main types of offensive candy they use are Shock Bits, Flame Outs, and Frost Bites. You can probably guess from the names which ones each confirms to.
  • Flying Brick: In the finale of the second book, Lindy and Chris become these by combining Jet stamps with Tank stamps.
  • Future Loser: Subverted. The crazy hobo claims to be Nate from the Bad Future, but they note that he doesn't look anything like Nate. He isn't. He's just got Nate's mind in him.
  • Girls Have Cooties: Played as a throwaway joke. A boy changes bodies and becomes a girl, and considers that he'd have to get himself checked out for cooties sometime. Later, this same fifth-grade boy finds a certain girl to be cute, so apparently he was only joking about the cooties.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: The book falls somewhere between this and Black-and-Gray Morality in the Shades of Conflict. The kids are good, but, being kids, they're sometimes surprisingly cruel. The adult good guys can act pretty "WTF?" at times. But the bad guy is pretty undeniably bad.
  • Happily Adopted: In the sequel, Mr. Stott has an adopted daughter, Lindy. He loves her immensely, and she him.
  • Healing Factor: John has one.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Mrs. White gets fed her own Clean Slate by way of defeat.
  • Hostage Spirit-Link: This is exactly John's curse. Any harm he does will be done to him.
  • Impossibly Delicious Food: Mind control aside, seriously, try some white fudge sometime. It's good stuff.
  • Kid Hero: Though with some adult help.
  • Latex Perfection: Magical perfection, actually—the Melting Pot Mixers disguise you by changing your ethnicity.
  • Little Professor Dialogue: Lindy in the sequel. Makes sense, considering she used to be an adult.
  • May Contain Evil: White fudge. Ironically, if you've never had the real deal before, you may be hankering for a taste once you set this book down.
    • Nacho cheese in the sequel. Due to their past experiences, they figure this out right away. Turns out it's an old White family recipe.
  • Nature Versus Nurture: In the early parts of the sequel, some of the characters are still wondering about Lindy, and if a new magician being in town will trigger her to start acting cruelly again, and if she is somehow, inherently, evil. In fact, the phrase "nature versus nurture" is explicitly brought up. Not only has Mr. Stott been bringing her up right, when she learns of her past, she realizes how lucky she's been to get to start over, and is overjoyed that she's no longer a horrible person. So it's "nurture" after all.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: Need to be this for a while? Down an Ironhide jawbreaker. The Tank stamps in the sequel have a similar effects.
  • No Self-Buffs: Magic works best on the young, so magicians can't get the full benefits of their own magical workings. Hence why they get kids to do their dirty work for them.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Pigeon has been Pigeon since second grade.
  • Orcus on His Throne: Justified. Magicians can't set foot outside their sanctums without instantly reverting to their true ages, so they have to work through proxies and apprentices to accomplish their goals.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Thanks to the white fudge.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Of the "Let's give these bullies a taste of their own medicine" variety.
  • Power Degeneration: One type of Apprentice has this—they have birthmarks which get bigger as they use their powers, and they die when it covers their entire body.
  • Reality-Changing Miniature: The powers of a Simulacrist: They can build miniatures which allow them to change the world by changing the miniature.
    • Uweya is one of these for the entire world.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Actually repeatedly brought up—such as a gravity-enhancing treat reinforcing bodies (so they don't crush in the enhanced pull), or Pigeon mulling over all the extra things the Brain Feed must do to make animals act so intelligently.
    • In the sequel, the required secondary powers of the Tank stamps are brought up and used almost as frequently as the main effect (making kids really strong and tough).
  • Similar Squad: Roman, Chris, and Marisa in the sequel are similar to Nate, Trevor, Summer and Pigeon, especially in the position they find themselves in and the way they react.
  • Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom: The tower of the Protector and the hall leading to Uweya in the sequel is full of them. Only the Tanks, with their super-endurance, can make it through.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Actually used in-story. A character actually says "Don't take candy from strangers, because it could be magically enchanted candy", and just about everyone reacts with "...Yeah, like that'll ever happen".
    • Joined to this is the more realistic moral that just because someone seems to be nice and offers gifts, it doesn't mean they necessarily have one's best interests in mind.
  • Stealth Pun: Each "club" of kids in the sequel are named after their stamps, and Jonas brings up that the Jets are "just like West Side Story. The pun comes once they claim the Submarine's stamps, which let them fly and swim... effectively making them Jets and Sharks.
  • Talking Animal: Brain Feed has this as its specific effect.
  • The Walls Have Eyes: The main characters are constantly stalked by a strange, floating, disembodied eye-like thing. When they realize who it belongs to, they shoot at it to destroy it... ...when they quickly realize they shot out the bad guy's actual eye.