Book Review: “The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places” by Pete Begler

Nell Perkins sees things no one else can. Perfectly ordinary people will appear to her in the shapes of animals, and recently she’s been seeing a dark purple cloud over her town, Mist Falls. Nell’s almost gotten used to no one believing her visions, but when mothers start disappearing into the cloud without a trace, Nell knows she’s got to do something. When her own mother is taken, Nell and her two brothers, George and Speedy, find themselves in the Dreamlands, fighting to save their mother from a band of truly wicked witches.

Pete Begler’s The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places is a cacophony of imagination. The narrative is a whirlwind of extraordinary and unbelievable things, including but not limited to a soup that allows you to travel across the city of Dreamdon (by climbing inside and taking a small boat), a gavel which determines whether Sleepers will be Dreams or Nightmares, and Dreamers, who are characters but somehow also portals to other realms.

Begler’s witches and other villains (including bloodthirsty clowns) are truly horrifying – more like Roald Dahl’s witches than J.K. Rowling’s. It’s a properly frightening book for young readers who like that sort of thing, though Nell and her siblings are rarely in danger long enough for things to get too spooky. Begler also populates his Dreamlands with more benevolent creations, though the book has little time to dwell on them between its fast-paced action sequences.

I really liked that Fearless Travelers’ Guide was a classic sibling adventure story (anyone with a smart-aleck younger brother is sure to appreciate George), but that Nell, who starts out very insecure, really gets to steal the show. As the oldest sibling, Nell feels responsible not only for her mother’s disappearance but also for getting her back. Her quest through the Dreamlands and the Wicked Places (the Dreamlands’ nightmarish counterpart) is also an adventure of self-discovery, one with a very satisfying ending.

Ultimately, the greatest strength of this story is its captivating take on what happens when we’re sleeping. Begler’s Dream worlds are bursting with possibility, and one gets the feeling that there’s a lot more to explore than what we see in the book. I don’t know if Begler is planning on writing a sequel or not, but even if he doesn’t, the vitality of his imagination will keep readers dreaming long after the story ends.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.