Love conquers all, sort of, eventually, maybe, in this quirky fantasy that incorporates alchemical transformations, hidden identities, inventive wordplay, and terrible (mostly off-stage) violence and destruction.
The multilayered story, which takes place in Petrossia, a vaguely medieval country with Russian overtones, follows a feisty girl named Teresa, a serf who works in the czar’s kitchen, and Pieter, a young “mathemagician.” Teresa is intrigued by alchemy and motivated by revenge. She believes that Pieter can help her learn—so she kidnaps him. Against all odds, this rash act is the unlikely start to a friendship that leads them through a multitude of dangers up to and including a quest to the land of the dead. Along the way British author Gayton sprinkles references to amusingly skewed traditional tales and to his own earlier work, The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn (2016). Arch authorial asides explain the calendar of Petrossia, the makeup of the czar’s war council, death, and other relevant topics. Readers with a taste for sly humor, grim events, and (literally) undying loyalty will gobble this up. Those who are attracted by the charming cover illustration of a cartoonish cat wearing a tiny crown, however, may be dismayed by the distinctly different direction taken by the narrative within.
Complex and convoluted, this tale will repay close attention from fans of offbeat fantasy. (Fantasy. 10-14)