In this middle-grade novel, three children journey in a magical boat to help reunite humans with the elemental world.
It’s a sad day for the white Temple family when it has to leave Honey Creek Farm for the city. Before leaving, Julie, 11, and her almost two years younger brother, Leo, make several surprising discoveries, including a little bottle with an exquisitely made tiny ship inside, complete with a swan figurehead. They also meet a little man called Curly Beard, who explains how they can sail in the magical boat. But it’s not a toy; a crucial plan is afoot to save Earth from ecological disaster by reuniting humans with the elementals like Curly Beard, “little folk…such as elves, fairies, wights, imps,” and more. (It’s unclear what these Old World beings are doing in what’s apparently North America.) Joining their mission is a new neighbor, Annabel, a pretty black girl around Leo’s age who walks with crutches. Healing the planet begins with aiding the Queen of the Waters, but first, the children must free Curly Beard, who’s been captured. Their path will be filled with danger and difficulty—but the kids have guides, resources, courage, and good hearts to help them. Many writers have tried to conjure up that true feeling of magic in their fantasy adventures, but Müller (Rounding the Cape of Good Hope, 2018, etc.) is one of the few who succeed. Lush, appealing descriptions stand out, as in an area packed with hundreds of captivating temptations that the children must resist: rooms full of sweet songbirds; “every imaginable toy”; intriguing weapons; jugglers and acrobats; and much more. Like C.S. Lewis, Müller offers effective characterizations (some may object to Annabel being described as “lame,” but her point of view is represented) and an exciting plot that’s ballasted by moral seriousness. The quest’s puzzles and challenges are original and involving, and the ending is genuinely moving. It also suggests further escapades to come—let’s hope so.
A delightful, compelling fantasy adventure, sure to win fans.