CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 16 . . . . December 16, 2011
One day, a group of good-hearted sailors spot a raven and a blinded infant in a basket in the sea. After killing the raven, they leave the boy with the authorities of a nearby port town. Having no use for the infant, the magistrates merely name him Peter Nimble from a misremembered nursery rhyme and leave him to the streets. Peter manages to eke out an existence in a Dickensian-like world full of hardship, begging and stealing to survive. Years later, a travelling salesman passes through town, hawking exotic and fantastic wares from faraway places. Peter listens with fascination to the stories the Haberdasher spins as he ‘wallet shops’ the crowd. Later, in the night, Peter furtively returns to see what valuables he might acquire from the Haberdasher’s carriage. Peter’s sensitive nose leads him to a plain wooden box with an aroma of rarity, and he makes off with it.
Back in his cellar, Peter opens the box and finds what appear to be three sets of eyes, one golden, one onyx, and one emerald. The instant Peter puts the golden eyes in, he is transported to another world, reuniting with the Haberdasher and meeting Professor Cake, the maker of the eyes. The two have chosen Peter to solve a mystery. The Professor has received part of a note from someone who desperately needs help, and he thinks only Peter has the skills to solve it The note reads:
Armed with the incomplete note, Peter, the thief and the most unlikely of heroes, embarks with his new friend, Sir Tode, on a quest to find and help the writer of the note.
With elements of Dickens, Carroll, Swift, Dahl and other classic children’s fantasy authors, Jonathan Auxier has created a vast and complex world that suspends readers’ disbelief as they are drawn into a battle that is unfolding between the forces of darkness and the writer of the note, a princess with beautiful, emerald eyes. The omniscient narrator often pauses the action to speak directly to the reader, adding pieces of information or providing some of the complex back-story, in a cynical and darkly humorous manner reminiscent of Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Auxier makes extensive use of wordplay; puns, double-meanings and imaginative prose are used to delightful effect. For example, in a pivotal scene, the band of youth battle monster apes, struggling to match their ‘gorilla warfare’. Young readers are recommended to keep a dictionary at hand.
An evil king has managed to brainwash all of the adults and forced the children to work in the mines below the castle, including the rightful heir to the throne. As Peter gradually solves the multiple layers of mystery, the back-story of the kingdom and his place in it are revealed. The setting provides a gritty and dark backdrop, allowing for an intense and thrilling fight between the forces of evil and the youth to regain the kingdom. The industrial era backdrop provides elements from steampunk fiction: the king has installed an unseen but vast clockwork mechanism which runs the palace and acts to enslave the adults, and he has also created a clockwork coat of armour to make himself invincible. Character development doesn’t suffer as a result of all of this action, and young Peter learns to overcome hardships and takes the first steps towards adulthood when he learns to reach out and trust others. Strong secondary characters are also included, and relationships have depth, especially that between Peter and Sir Tode.
Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes is a highly enjoyable fantasy novel with action that includes extensive battle violence and death. This epic adventure will find its most suitable audience in older tweens and younger teens.
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at the Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.