Through mayhem and twists, Jaxter’s cheeky attitude keeps this second volume flowing (The Vengekeep Prophecies, 2012).
It opens with classic Grimjinx shenanigans: a craftily narrated sham funeral, arranged to empty the mourners’ houses for easy thieving. Jaxter returns from his apprenticeship (studying plants for the purpose of “negating magic through nonmagical means”) to join the mischief. But soon after not-actually-dead Nanni reappears for supper, Jaxter, Ma and Da are summoned by the Shadowhands, “elite thieves-for-hire” who operate in total anonymity. Jaxter’s stunned to learn that Ma used to be one. Chaos is afoot. Shadowhands are vanishing; five magical relics have been stolen from the High Laird, who’s ordered an entire ethnic group, the Sarosans, arrested and imprisoned. Before Jaxter knows it, he and his nemesis from the first book, Maloch (whose Shadowhand father has disappeared), are kidnapped by Sarosans, led by—startlingly—a famous botanist whom Jaxter always idolized. Making enemies-but-friends with two Sarosan kids, Jaxter and Maloch tumble their way through escapes, traps and fights with creepy monsters, while trying to untangle which adults committed which bad deed. Always “flippant when faced with danger,” Jaxter narrates in humorous first-person: “ ‘Good news, guys. I found more bugs!’ I said cheerfully….Holm made a rude gesture that I was pretty sure he was too young to know.” Well-meaning but worrisome romanticization of simple, dark-skinned nomads somewhat undermines Farrey’s explicit anti-racism.
High-spirited fun, with complexity and surprises. (Fantasy. 8-12)