by Jonathan Auxier
Published by Abrams/Amulet
"Now, for those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware that they make the very best thieves."
With a brilliantly unconventional dive into an unlikely hero at the very start of the book, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes immediately appealed to me.
With wit, humor, irony, plus fantastic pace of story progression, and a handful of quirky characters, the book is a pleasure to read.
"One morning, a group of drunken but good-hearted sailors spotted him bobbing in a basket alongside their ship. Perched on the boy’s head was a large raven, which had, presumably, pecked out his eyes. Disgusted, the sailors killed the bird and delivered the child to the authorities of a nearby port town."Without the cloying sweetness that can sometimes sneak into YA literature, and without horrific sensationalism that can get distasteful, the book has a direct charm that respects the young readers and their capacity to appreciate a well-narrated story.
Ten year old Peter Nimble is a blind thief, and a fantastic one at that. He can get in anywhere, open any lock, steal anything, and hence his last name, Nimble. He happens upon a mysterious haberdasher from whom he steals a box with 3 pairs of magical eyes - gold, onyx and emerald. Thus starts his reluctant adventure.
He is whisked into an island when he tries on the first pair of eyes. Who should he meet there but the haberdasher himself. And, a horse-cat knight who arrives there quite by accident. Horse-cat-knight? Yes! He is all three in one, an unfortunate outcome of a curse he has been trying to undo unsuccessfully.
A verse in a bottle, the message clearly urgent yet missing the last word to make sense. A kindly professor who cleverly thrusts Peter in the thick of it, to find his destiny. A villain so terrible he is ready to rid the world of children. Ravens, brave and loyal, waiting to restore their honor. And, a spit-fire of a princess who leads a rag-tag bunch or rebel children to stop the villain.
The story climaxes to a satisfactory conclusion. Even though we suspect good will win over evil, the author's irreverent style keeps us on our toes - we won't be surprised if all's not well in the end, the author never promises that.
Meanwhile, there's big clockwork machines and giant sea serpents, huge towers and vast deserts, brain-washed adults and enslaved children, hunking gorilla-ish goons and sneaky back-stabbing thieves... plus of course, a sister who finds her long-lost brother amidst extenuating circumstances.
"How could the sea disappear?" "Why couldn't they tell Peter what the other 2 pairs of eyes do?" "What if the ravens...?" "Why did the king...?"
The book generated so many questions as I read it with the resident 8 year old. Nothing is impossible in fantasy, even if there is some minor violation of internal consistency and integrity. Imagination is they key. The book has plenty of it, and not all of them are blasé-old-stuff either.
Now, literary criticisms are a different matter best left to the professionals who can shred the veil of niceties and lay bare the merit of a book. But for a certain young reader (et moi), this book has everything to transport her into another world and enjoy the whole experience.
[read Chapter One]
[image source: www.peternimble.com]