________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 11. . . .November 12, 2010


Sir Seth Thistlethwaite and the Soothsayer's Shoes. (Book One).

Richard Thake. Illustrated by Vince Chui.
Toronto, ON: Owlkids, 2010.
142 pp., pbk. & hc., $8.95 (pbk.), $15.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-897349-93-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-897349-92-2 (hc.).

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Todd Kyle.

* /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Yes, yes, he decided. Stealing those shoes might be the best thing he'd ever done.

"Guards! Guards!" he called, as he leapt to his feet and headed to the door. "Have my horse saddled and brought round to the front door of the castle. I must get down to the village at once and announce to all the people of Euphoria and everyone, everywhere in High Dudgeon, the wonderful good news!"

The prince cackled to himself. "Indeed, good news. Now there's a new soothsayer wearing these shoes."


Seth Thistlethwaite and his best friend, Ollie Everghettz, imagine themselves as Sir Seth and Sir Ollie, mighty knights whose mission is to bring right and honour to the kingdoms of Thatchwych and High Dudgeon. Learning that the evil Prince Quincy of Poxley has stolen a wizard's magical truth-saying shoes, they travel to High Dudgeon to make everything right. Along the way, they encounter a series of adventures and obstacles until they finally meet up with the prince and force him to tell the truth about his crimes, thereby lifting the kingdom's curse of never-ending rain.

internal art     The intention of Sir Seth Thistlethwaite and the Soothsayer's Shoes is to produce a funny, exciting, appealing story that mirrors boys' imaginary play and throws alliteration, rhyme, and wordplay into the mix to boot. Unfortunately, much of the text is confusing, meandering, and almost misleading. From the beginning, the dividing line between the boys' real and imagined life is unclear which of the characters is "real" (like their dog Shasta, who doubles as their faithful horse) and which is imagined (the prince, etc) is never explained. The plot twists and turns are unending ( in cases seemingly pointless) and obscure the nugget of good plotting that is there: the soothsaying shoes will eventually force the prince to tell the truth. But what is baffling is that the prince thinks from the beginning that the shoes will allow him to convince his long-suffering subjects of his own lies.

      There are a few good examples of wordplay, such as in the excerpt above. But much of the prose is so far over the top as to come across as shrill. To make matters even more bizarre, some words (as "guards" above) are written in larger font within the text, for no discernable reason. Confusion is created by, for example, the fact that the "bog runner" creatures at first require translation so that the knights can understand what they say, and then later they appear to start speaking English. And then there is this quip:

"How do weevils feel about knights?"

"That's a good question, Sir Ollie. No one knows whether weevils eat knights or not," the king reluctantly had to admit. "Because, you see, no knight who's gone in there has ever come out. Which means you'll be the first knights to find out."

      Well, no, not really. Other knights probably found out, possibly as they were being eaten.

     In any case, the story does end well, with the sun coming out just as the prince is being forced to tell the truth, thereby lifting the curse that said the rain would continue until the Poxley name was trusted once again. The last paragraph (despite the ill-placed large font) is the wittiest one in the book, saying that the boys ride off into the sunset because, for the first time, there was a sunset in the kingdom to ride into! But despite these touches, the story is still far from engaging to the very reluctant readers it is trying to attract, not to mention that the illustrations are unappealing and use far too much dark ink.

Not recommended.

Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and has served on the jury of a number of children's literature awards.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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