This triumphantly weird, whimsical story takes place in a world where certain children are brave, resourceful, clever, and wise, and most adults are pitiful, silly, and easily duped into serving as slaves of a fiendish villain. It is a world full of such possibilities as winged zebras, talking fish, curses, transfigurations, disappearing islands, and clockwork weaponry. It features a war between apes and ravens, an endless desert littered with shipwrecks, an island where all the seas in the world meet, and a blind boy whose keen senses of hearing, smell, and touch make him the greatest thief in the world.
The boy’s name is Peter Nimble. As a baby, he was found floating in a basket on the seashore, along with a raven that had apparently pecked his eyes out. He was raised by a family of cats and later learned to pick pockets and nick vegetables from market stalls. He spent the better part of his childhood committing burglaries for a cruel master named Mr. Seamus until one night he stole a precious box of enchanted eyeballs that transported him on a magical adventure.
He is soon joined by an absurd but loyal knight who, for reasons too complex to go into here, has been transformed into a part-horse, part-kitten. Peter receives his marching orders from a strange old professor who dwells on the Troublesome Lake, so named because all the hopeless messages in bottles thrown into all the world’s seas eventually drift upon its shores. The professor sends Peter and Sir Tode off to solve a riddle in a bottle and, perhaps, save whoever sent it.
The riddle leads them into a dangerous conflict between thieves and birds, and then to a kingdom ruled by a usurper who has brainwashed all his adult subjects and enslaved the children. Between a night watch staffed with man-eating apes, a mine guarded by ferocious sea monsters, and a vast system of cogs and springs, King Incarnadine seems to have an unshakable hold on power. But there’s no reckoning on a boy whose fingers are as good as his name, once he learns his true destiny.
This is a delightfully quirky, funny adventure that places a touching emphasis on friendship, loyalty, courage, and the resiliency of children. It should appeal to all readers ready for the secret that kids are better than grown-ups, and anyone who likes fairy-tale endings that don’t come too easily. A lot of complications are packed into its plot, but at the bottom it is a simple, direct escape route from hum-drum to fun. It could also boost the spirits of children with disabilities. If their vision is impaired – and even if it isn’t – they may enjoy Michael Page’s audiobook performance, which brings the voices of Sir Tode and the apes most vividly to life. There is a sequel, Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard.
Interested? Buy a copy here.