A squirrel and his dog friend go on a journey to find a key that will unlock a powerful map in this middle-grade fantasy.
Employing the standard hero’s-journey template—young, unsure protagonist leaves home to find a treasure that will change his life and the lives of those he cares for—debut author Dhariwal tells the story of 13-year-old Squirrel, a slave in the city of Bimmau, who inadvertently drinks a liquid that begins to unlock a mystery that only he can solve. At stake is not only his own freedom, but that of all the cats, dogs, crows, mongooses, and other animal and insect beings that populate this confusing story. Epic tales featuring animal protagonists have been done and done well, but this is not one of them. The author fails to create a world that is believable, giving readers instead wince-inducing puns (Pedipurr, “faux-paw,” BuzzEx) and copious, confusing similes that have little to no relationship to the story’s world. The overall impression is one of cleverness at the expense of storyline. Add to this trope-y characters with gratuitous accents, overwrought descriptions, unsurprising and/or illogical plot points, and even some very out-of-place sexual innuendos, and the result is a book that continuously pulls readers out of it—making them ask themselves why they should keep reading.
With so many excellent animal-fantasy books available, there’s no reason to spend money or time on this one. (Fantasy. 9-12)