by Jonathan Auxier
Amulet Books an Imprint of Abrams
Sent by Regal Literary Agency
The book blurb on the ARC doesn't match what's on Good Reads so I'm not posting it.
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is unlike any novel I've read in MG or for that matter YA. When I was approached about reading this novel for review, I was taken in by the description that it was Dickensian in nature. I love British literature. And as I read Peter Nimble, I could see the plot of Oliver Twist winding its way through the novel, though not quite so darkly. But, there's a dash of John Green and some Scott Westerfeld or is it Mark Twain or Neil Gaiman. I guess it is uniquely Jonathan Auxier who's combined wit and plot lends itself a very new voice in an undefinable genre. Though presented as an MG book, I think it could definitely cross over into YA.
Now, don't get me wrong, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes isn't a warm your heart kind of fantasy at the beginning or even the middle. Peter is found floating in a basket with a raven believed to have pecked his eyes out by sailors. He has no name and when given over to the magistrates of the nearest town, is named, but then turned out as an infant and takes refuge with a mother cat, nursing with her kittens. It doesn't get any prettier from there and he eventually becomes a thief, a master thief.
But one fate changing day, he meets a haberdasher and being an expert lock picker, picks the numerous locks on his coach and steals something from him. And this sets him on an adventure of a lifetime with many perils and battles. This is the fantasy part of the story and from then, it's nothing but nonstop action. It's got some Steampunk, some magic, fantasy definitely, and lots of sarcastic, subtle humor. It has a dark undertone for the most part yet it doesn't feel heavy and it isn't gloomy or depressing.
Peter, as a character is very likable, if not relate-able. He stays true to his nature. He isn't evil, he's just trying to survive at first. But later on, he's trying to do more. And he's constantly reminding himself in difficult situations to remain true to his nature, which is a thief. But not for his own gain. And being a thief proves to be quite handy throughout the book. He's surrounded himself with good people and he sticks with them.
Peter's sidekick, Sir Tode, is a knight cursed by a hag to be half horse and half cat. I couldn't picture how that worked, but thankfully there are pen and ink drawings, done by the author, throughout the book that help and I realized Sir Tode is cat sized, not horse sized. He, too, stays true to his nature, but isn't all he purports himself to be which is also true to his nature.
Throughout there are numerous characters, most of them children or ravens, yes as in birds, and the adults, for most of the book are the villains. There is a little bit about how science is thought to be magic by everyone in the Vanished Kingdom including clocks and automated gates. There are some Steampunk like elements in the machinery that the citizens of the Vanished Kingdom believe to be magic as they've never witnessed science before. But Peter defeats this so called "magic" and shows them it is just science. The box proves to be magic though, there is no disputing that. And like any fairy tale there is a prince and princess, though not quite in the sense that we are used to. There are no romances. But plenty of talking animals. So really there is something for everyone.
Most enjoyable to me was Jonathan Auxier's writing. I don't know if the humor will be lost on MG readers, but I thoroughly enjoyed his mocking of adults. Or perhaps he will win them over with his subtle encouragement with passages like, "As you know, children (unlike grown-ups) are far too clever to be tricked by impostors-a fact that goes a long way toward explaining their distrust of wicked stepmothers and substitute teachers." (p.214) There was a lot of sarcastic, tongue in cheek humor, my favorite kind, and I found myself smirking as I read. Yeah, I shared a few passages with the men/boys, but I'm not living with book lovers here, so it gets lost on them. They don't get clever, intelligent humor.
So, what do I think overall? I thought it was a great story line with great characters. Peter was the main character but not the only interesting one. The story is a stand alone, something I love and is totally complete with a very definite ending. But there is the hint that there could be more stories to come. And it would definitely be a shame to leave Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes in the Vanished Kingdom. Jonathan Auxier's humor was subtle and honestly, it took me a lot longer to read this book than other's this length. I think that was because it was truly more literary (I hate to say intelligent or smart so I hope you understand when I say literary) than any other MG novel I've read. It didn't take away from my enjoyment of it at all. It probably increased it because it made it so unique. Sure you can read it as just a story, but I bet you can't breeze through it. You'll miss the humor. And it shouldn't be missed. I highly recommend Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes.