Monday, 3 October 2011

review: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

by Jonathan Auxier
Amulet Books (Puffin Canada), August 2011
middle-grade fantasy
received from publisher (thank you!)

Blinded at birth by a raven and found floating in a basket by a seaport town, Peter Nimble has grown up through a childhood of thievery. When one day a man called the Haberdasher arrives with a carriage-load of exotic riches, Peter manages to steal a box with truly fantastical contents: three pairs of magical eyeballs. Trying on the first pair transports him to a secret island, where a few unusual individuals present him with a quest to save a lost kingdom from its corrupt king. And in doing so, Peter maybe just find his way to his destiny.
The cover:

I'm pretty sure it's clear by now: illustrated covers rock. The orange/blue contrast isn't overdone, and the illustrator (Gilbert Ford) chose a gorgeous scene to draw, what with the mountains, ships (on the back) and ravens. THe interior design is beautiful as well, which must be why they dedicated an entire page to the design details. My sincere congratulations and appreciation to designer Chad W. Beckerman.

The book:

Oh, how I love my middle-grade fantasy! This epic journey of a novel hit all my soft spots. Prepare yourself for a variety of wacky characters, mysterious lands and a plot that'll make you want to hum "The Circle of Life" from The Lion King. (Well, maybe not exactly. You get my drift.)

Let's start with Peter Nimble himself. In making him blind, Jonathan Auxier opens up new sensory dimensions ("...the Haberdasher... smelled of wet wool mixed with a tinge of regret...", page 14); by making the point of view omniscient, the author ensures the visual settings aren't lacking -- and it also makes for funny situations: "The knight had woken only the moment before to see Peter reaching into the mouth of the most enormous dogfish imaginable", page 80.

The writing suits the omniscient narration just right with the occasional deep spiel, or humorous one: "In case you are not familiar with the sensation, a knock about the head is widely regarded as one of life's most unpleasant surprises. Such an assault results in the victim spinning around to cry "Who's there?!" at the air behind them. The person might even stupidly pat their head to check for blood." (page 245) Auxier does overuse the ?!, though.

Characters come in all manners: Sir Tode is the aforequoted knight who's also part horse and cat; Giggles, Scrape, Trouble and Marbles are an underground (literally) gang of children, led by Peg, a disowned princess; Patch, Clipper, Cough, Bogie and Twiddlesticks are ex-thieves named after the burgle trades Auxier introduces to us. In fact, the world of thievery is as developed as the lands Peter Nimble and Sir Tode travel through.

And the "Circle of Life" plot -- it all comes full cycle, from the fact that it was a raven who blinded Peter to the third pair of eyeballs that are made of emerald. And though, personally, I don't enjoy the final kind of ending Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes finishes with, it's no doubt an adequate end to this grand debut novel.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5