Two visiting American children are kidnapped by a runaway British carnival in this middle-grade fantasy sequel.
Fifth-grader Tess and her younger brother, Max, are spending another summer in England with Aunt Evie. After their previous experiences (The Castle in the Mist, 2017), the pair feel ready for anything—but when a seaside carnival magically whisks them away, they’re not sure how they’ll ever get back to Devon-by-the-Sea. This episodic tale, with its quaintly whimsical setting and omniscient narration occasionally slipping into lecture mode, reads as deliberately old-fashioned. Tess, however, is a thoroughly modern heroine: She’s athletic, impulsive, and fearless, and her warm relationship with clever, nerdy Max charms convincingly. The siblings may be kind and brave, but they are also authentic children, avoiding the arch banter and grand heroics of current trends. All the characters seem default white and, despite their very different circumstances, vaguely upper-middle-class, with the notable exception of two very broadly drawn and accented Italians. While Tess, Max, and those they befriend face very real menaces, the stakes are kept small and personal. The fantastic elements are likewise low-key and intimate; they are more the stuff of daydreams—daring the flying trapeze!—and sparkling enchantments, never explained, just accepted as facets of the titular “carnival magic.” The very short chapters create gentle suspense at a brisk pace, perfect for classroom read-alouds.
For those who like their adventures comfortable and their wonders cozy. (Fantasy. 8-12)