In this ambitious debut, two preteen circus musicians visit hidden worlds and uncover not only family secrets, but a scheme to rob this world’s children of all their talents.
It’s unclear whether the title refers to this doorstopper episode’s three sections or (daunting thought) promised sequels. The tale is set in a dystopic world in which the oceans have somehow evaporated and garbage-strewn Outskirts surround walled cities that tower a thousand stories high. It sends impulsive Charlotte and her repressed twin, Sonja, on a double quest to rescue kidnapped Tatty Tatters, the tattooed lady who has lovingly raised them, and also to recover their magical musical talent—golden globs of which have been literally sucked from their ears by a malign cat. Visits ensue to a dreary megacity to see factories full of similarly robbed children and also to several Narnia-like magic lands to enlist aid from their residents. Malouf offers such requisite elements as an old prophecy, magical talismans, and nonhuman allies (adolescent shape-changers, in this case) to help with escapes and comic relief and a climactic battle that is as poorly choreographed as it is arbitrary. In addition, she tricks her tale out with dozens of vignettes and cold, if technically accomplished, portraits of figures with remote, enigmatic expressions. Despite all this, the resolution is spectacularly lazy.
A sketchy, underthought epic, as mannered and artificial as the illustrations. (Fantasy. 12-15)