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In Book Two of the Century Quartet, four kids with Leap Day birthdays come together again to solve another puzzle, this time in New York City. Elettra from Rome, Mistral from Paris, Sheng from Shanghai, and Harvey from Manhattan face an evil nightclub owner, five dangerous women, a one-eyed crow flying surveillance for a shadowy group of Native Americans, and a trail of clues seemingly left behind by a man who lived over 100 years without growing old. Their friend Ermete, master of disguise, comes along to help and ends up in the hospital. And while Elettra still struggles to understand the strange power over the element of fire that emerged in her during their previous adventure, the sweetness of first love connects her to Harvey.
Harvey is at the center in this installment. His relationship with his parents is strained, and he still has not healed, since the death of his older brother a year ago. He tries to channel this pain into boxing lessons offered by a basement gym. But then he starts hearing voices—particularly, the voice of his dead brother—and manifesting strange powers that he isn’t ready to accept. An antiques dealer notices, for example, that a dead plant blooms after Harvey touches it. And he isn’t the only person to notice.
All this has something to do with a secret that goes back to the ancient Chaldeans. The kids have found an intricately carved wooden board, and four wooden tops which, if spun on a map of any place in the world, come to rest pointing at a vital clue. This magic has passed through the hands of Columbus, Leonardo, Aristotle, and countless other discoverers and thinkers. Plus, they have already found the “Ring of Fire” that lay hidden for centuries in Rome; now they must locate a “Star of Stone” somewhere in New York. And it might not hurt to get hold of a fifth top that has turned up in a local antique shop.
If the foursome fails, mankind may default on its Pact with Nature. There are already signs that the Earth is angry. The survival of the whole world may hang in the balance. All this responsibility lands on four scared kids, who have the henchmen of an evil hermit after them, while the only people who can help them are sworn to keep silent and let them work things out on their own. And that means risking trouble in and around such landmarks as Rockefeller Center, the New York Public Library, Ellis Island, and Central Park—to name only a few of the beauty spots, cultural treasures, and dark places to which the clues lead them.
And so Pierdomenico Baccalario ratchets up the danger, the drama, the spookiness, and the magic of this ongoing series. Translated into English by Leah D. Janeczko, this installment follows up on Ring of Fire. The last two books in the sequence are titled City of Wind and Dragon of Seas. A prolific author in the Italian language, Baccalario’s other works in English include translations of the first four books of a twelve-book series under the title and pen-name “Ulysses Moore.”