Magical stagecraft, steampunk mechanisms, and glittering faerie dust intermesh in a debut middle-grade fantasy.
Felix Cassius Tiberius Carmer III may be a shy and shabby orphan, but his tinkering genius has encouraged Antoine the Amazifier and his traveling show to try their luck at a prestigious competition for stage illusionists. While exploring the host city, Carmer accidentally joins forces with one-winged faerie princess Grettifrida (or, as she insists, Grit) to foil the schemes of an evil industrialist enslaving faeries as a cheap source of power. First in a projected series, this adventure overflows with imaginative conceits; unfortunately, the disparate genres feel slapped together with little consistency or depth in a jarringly unmoored world. There is barely any sense of setting and, except for a stereotyped Romani fortuneteller and a discordant Yiddish toast, no reference to ethnicity. The book’s default for both humans and faeries is white. Carmer makes for a charming hero—clever, compassionate, and exceedingly humble—but Grit, despite her refreshingly matter-of-fact representation of disability, is little more than a selfish brat. Meanwhile, every potential hint of interesting nuance to the villains is hurriedly deflated by a bout of mustachio-twirling depravity. If the narrative voice is a bit too arch and the whimsy somewhat forced, the insidious creepy horror and galloping pace are still effective, right up to the unexpectedly gruesome fate of the nefarious evildoers.
Shaky—but with undeniable potential. (Fantasy. 10-14)