The book was likely aimed at middle-schoolers, and I read the first half of it in the early 90's.

The boy was a successful thief, and I think he came from an abusive home. An old wizard/magician found the boy and convinced him to follow the magician on a quest. I think the magician sought the boy out because the boy had potential to save the world. The magician started to train the boy in the art of magic, and promised him that he would be a great magician some day. The boy got captured and... that's about where I stopped reading.

I think this book was the start of a series.

Edit for future searches:

  • Yes, this book was part of a series, a trilogy to be exact.
  • The boy was a thief, and he did come from an abusive home, although without blood relatives.
  • An old magician found the boy by happenstance, and lured him into his house. The magician made the boy his apprentice, then invited him on a quest a couple of months later.
  • The magician didn't seek the boy out, but he did recognize the boy's potential to be a great apprentice. And it wasn't really to save the world, just to do a real important mission.
  • The boy did get captured, along with the magician, on their quest.
  • 1
    This currently is quite tropey and likely to match a few different works. Why did the magician decide to train the boy? How did he find him? Who captured him? Why? How did the magic system work? What sort of magic did he learn? Can you remember anything else about the plot? Character descriptions? Setting? Etc. If you remember anything else you can edit that detail into your post.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 1:36
  • @TheLethalCarrot I added one more detail to my description based on your questions. Unfortunately, 30ish years has faded my memories of more details. That's one reason why I haven't found this book yet. Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 1:41

1 Answer 1


This might be The Magician's Apprentice (1987) by Tom McGowen. It's a YA novel advertised by Scholastic for years 6-8. It is the first book of a three book series.

It starts with a young cut-purse noticing a wizard leave his house but not properly lock the door. The would-be thief sneaks in but the wizard returns far too soon and he is trapped.

The wizard reveals he knows the thief is there and binds him with magic (he creates a little doll to control him) to do service to make up for trying to steal.

After some weeks of service the thief begins to learn a bit about magic, and when the wizard gives him the chance to free himself and leave, the thief instead decides to stay and become an apprentice.

Shortly after, the wizard is hired to join a caravan and their adventure begins...

Most of the mentioned plot points are mentioned in the first few pages.
Pges 2 and 3 of The Magician's Apprentice

  • This looks very promising! I'll track this book down, and accept the answer if it's what I'm looking for. Thanks! Commented Aug 2, 2020 at 8:25
  • This was totally the right book. Thank you so much! I just hit the part of the book that I read to in middle school. I can't wait to find out how this book ends. Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 18:58
  • I now know the main reason that I couldn't find this book for all these years. When I first looked for it (when the internet was younger) I searched it by title. The thing is, there are 5-10 books called The Magician's Apprentice, and this is not the most popular one. So I figured I has the title wrong, and that completely messed up my search. Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 19:01
  • Unique photo and highlight method...
    – Jontia
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 9:50

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