Well, the title gives away all the spoilers.
No, just kidding.
This is a wonderful, wonderful adventure tale: it made me think of a lean version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. A young lad, Kit Bristol, a servant to a dissipated country gentleman, suddenly finds himself caught up in danger and excitement when it turns out his employer is none other than the notorious highwayman Whistling Jack. And having met up with a late night accident, Kit finds his employer dying in the kitchen.
But, before he expires, he gives Kit his last will and testament which Kit discovers is a very peculiar map with not one word on it. But there’s not enough time for lengthy tales as the Redcoats are searching for Whistling Jack and have come to the manor house. Kit leaves, wearing his master’s coat, boots and mask and takes his most excellent steed Midnight along with his master’s dog, Demon hoping to confuse Captain Sterne who leads the hunt for the highwayman.
And off we go---Kit goes to the Kingsmire Forest per his master’s final words to meet up with the mysterious old woman/witch Magda who gives him a quest: rescue the Fairy Princess from a silver coach before she is taken to King George II to marry the future George III. Kit performs his task and rescues the Princess Morgana from her silver coach. Kit follows the mysterious map whose images change constantly in hopes to leave England and go to Ireland where all will be safe from the English King and the Fairy King’s political machinations as well as the relentless pursuit of Captain Sterne and his men.
Of course, in their travels, we pick up some charming characters: Willum and Gruntle - winged fairies whose bottoms light up like fireflies; Lily the tightrope walker and her senile Uncle Cornelius who once was a member of a traveling circus. Kit and Lily rescue Cornelius from the greedy clutches of a housekeeper. And though sadly, he does not recognize Lily, he has a grand old time telling tales and providing a gypsy wagon so they may make their way to the coast as itinerant mummers and players. They stop in villages and towns and put on performances for a few coins.
The Fairy Princess Morgana is, at first, as haughty as she should be, but finally realizes she has been rescued from a dire fate and agrees to read palms. Tripp handles her character exceptionally well as she unbends slowly from her aloof, fae persona and because more warm and engaging. And through all their adventures, she and Kit grow close.
There’s also Fred the baboon who saves the day from a vicious raid by the One-Eyed Duchess who wants her soul back and tries to steal Lily and the princess.
The story is the best of YA and yes, it is similar in feeling to Neil Gaiman’s Stardust or The Ocean at the End of the Lane as the book jacket exclaims.
This is definitely a book to treasure. One perfect for a soggy weekend when nothing will do but Adventure! Magic! Hair’s Breadth escapes! And a dashing hero in the making and a princess who needs help.
Tripp has a wonderful flavor to his writing. He tells the tale from Kit’s point of view and illustrates the book throughout, including on the edges of the pages, with wonderful black and white drawings like a turn of the century children’s book. It really adds to the whimsy of the book.
This is a keeperand better yet--- a book to pass down to a favorite young reader.
And hurrah! There are two more books to come! ~~ Sue Martin