Thursday, March 26, 2009

Children’s Books: The Gimlet Eye by James Roy

In this third installment of the spin-off of the popular Quentaris shared-world series, a character from the original series is actually killed off, something that doesn’t usually happen in shared universes. As it happens in the prologue, it’s no secret.

The Archon, ruler of Quentaris, is dying. His horrible nephew Florian is persuaded to finish him off rather than wait for his inevitable death. Florian’s “friend” Janus (as in the two-faced god?) reminds him of the prophecy that declares that anyone who kills the previous ruler will rule properly himself. Janus, of course, has his own agenda.

Meanwhile, the adult magicians have been banished to a very nasty part of the city (well, they can’t be exiled elsewhere, short of being thrown overboard, since Quentaris has been travelling from one vortex to another). The younger ones, such as Tab Vidler, former Dung Brigader and recently an apprentice magician, and her friend Amelia, have been spared the dungeons, but left to their own devices. Tab is back to shovelling dung, though on a farm rather than the streets, while Amelia is working at a pub. Torby, the boy rescued in the first novel, The Spell of Undoing, is lying in hospital in a catatonic state. Nobody knows how this happened, except, of course, the reader.

That conceited ac-tor, Fontagu Wizroth the Third, has been ordered to do a command performance of a play called The Gimlet Eye for the new Emperor’s birthday, and he’s thrilled. Tab, Amelia and their friend, the former pirate Verris, can’t persuade Fontagu that there’s something fishy going on...

In my opinion, this one is the best so far in the new series. We learn more about the characters and their feelings. The adventure is exciting but straightforward enough for the young readers for whom this is an introduction to fantasy. At the same time, there’s a murder in the first chapter; there’s no tiptoeing around the issue. What happens to the adult magicians is also scary. But there’s still plenty of humor, maybe more than there’s been since the original series. In the end, Fontagu is shown in a more positive light than before.

The only thing is, while you can probably get something out of this book without having read the others, you really do need to have read them to understand properly what’s going on. The series is no longer a lot of related but individual titles.

Recommended for children from mid-primary to early secondary school.

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