CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 3. . . .September 18, 2009
Simon is an orphan living in Grimstown with his seemingly crazy grandfather and his monstrous housekeeper Griselda. Due to a mysterious accident, Simon’s memory is limited to the last seven months. On the eve of his fourteenth birthday, Simon has a vivid dream where his mother gives him half of a key and tells him that he must “fulfill [his] purpose as prophesied.” Upon awakening, Simon discovers the key has become real. Only hours later, Simon is frustratingly gullible when he is tricked by Griselda into believing his loving grandfather wants him to move immediately to the gothic Grimstown Academy for Orphans. At the academy, Simon bonds with another resident, Gil, and earns the nickname Smudge. When the sinister headmaster Mr. Ratsworth sends Gil and Smudge to detention hall, the boys discover a hole in the floor that transports them to another realm.
Shortly after entering the realm of Emogen, Gil is swallowed by enchanted vines. Smudge races off to find help and comes across a kind old man named Drofgum who retrieves Gil from the jungle. Drofgum is actually his grandfather, but Smudge does not recognize him until the end of the book when he shows Smudge his comb-over and pointed ears. Drofgum explains that the evil Demlock has tried to steal the elements (fire, earth, air, water) from Emogen’s king-like Sustainer. The Sustainer tried to protect the elements by hiding them in a place that could only be opened by the prophesied Seventh Son using both halves of Smudge’s key. While the elements are hidden, the realm of Emogen wastes away while villainous Demlock gets stronger. Once again, Gil disappears, and Smudge realizes his friend is Demlock’s prisoner. Of course, it is up to Smudge to rescue Gil and save Emogen.
The novel is composed of two very different halves. At the onset, the story seems humorously absurd, with descriptions of Grandpa’s pranks and Griselda’s theatrical behaviour, but the attempts at comedy and the emphasis on the absurd disappear quickly when the boys enter Emogen, and the story becomes more of a fast-paced fantasy adventure with very little humor. Braver young readers who are not squeamish at the thought of Mr. Ratsworth’s eyeglass stapled to his forehead might enjoy Smudge’s exciting magical adventure and his battle against evil forces.
Recommended with reservations.
Beth Wilcox is a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.