In Silas and the Black Mare (p. 749, J-179), Bodker projected her resourceful young hero's memorable encounters with penetrating, uncompromising shrewdness; in these subsequent volumes she settles for merely using similar treacherous and bizarre figures to spice and propel Silas' adventures. Nevertheless her strong, stinking, conniving Horse Crone--who steals a little boy and hitches him to her knife-sharpening wagon, steals Silas' mare (though he tracks her down and retrieves it), and tries to do Silas in on more than one occasion--is a most imposing villain; and Silas' further adventures, particularly in the latter volume, are corking, invigorating ones. In Silas and Ben-Godik, Silas and his lame friend wander about on the black mare and on an idiosyncratic horse Shags, earning their way with Silas' flute and Ben-Godik's carved wooden bowls. Lodging in a deaf woman's loft, they become entangled with a gang of cutthroat silver thieves; they rescue the kidnapped child from the Horse Crone; and they narrowly escape grisly deaths when crone and silver thieves clash at a sinister grist mill. The next book details Silas' short stay in the city home of a wealthy merchant, whose family he has rescued by stopping their runaway coach. This time Silas and the merchant's son are kidnapped by the horse crone; again, the mare is stolen, this time with one of the merchants'; and Silas' audacious, wily, and complicated maneuvers in recovering them keep the pages flying. By now the once-amoral Silas has developed a compassionate sense of humanity, and he is forever rescuing unsavory victims (even the Horse Crone, and a dancing bear more than once) from angry crowds and cohorts; but his kind deeds are undertaken with such dash and defiance of risk that there's no question of going soft. Silas continues to speak out refreshingly, to outwit opponents and readers, to maintain his wary independence and keen exuberance--well into a crackerjack series that shows no sign of lagging.