A middle-grade fantasy about two boys who are separated from their parents during the reign of a petty despot.
In the Lands of Yonder is the town of Middlemost, where everyone is welcome. Adele and Kale Brandiwygn live there with their identical twin infants, Charles and James. They tell the kids apart by putting bracelets on them, labeled “C” and “J.” One day, Count Wilhelm Scream arrives in the Lands, declaring himself Supreme Ruler. He lives in Castle Mirkstone and dispatches a Special Police force to enslave anyone who disagrees with him. Naturally, the citizens of Middlemost try to resist the Count, and they hold secret meetings to strategize. The Brandiwygns host one such gathering; during it, the Special Police break in and haul the rebels toward wagons that will bring them to a prison on Mount Count. Other Middlemost folk, including Zach and Becky Zuckerman, watch in horror. Adele and Kale hurl their babies into the crowd before they’re captured, and the Zuckermans catch them. Twelve years later, Charles and James are now known as Casper and Jasper, and they live with the Zuckermans in Inglenook. Adele and Kale have been toiling away in separate camps, maintaining hope for the family’s reunion someday. The twins soon go on an adventure, battling various supernatural creatures along the way, to make that happen. In this darkly mirthful tale, Jacobs (Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Café, 2015) embraces the difficult task of depicting a fascist society for a young audience. Many of her concepts—such as the textbook Adele must teach, Science and Other Lies—earn a laugh, but underneath it all is the idea that people like the Count can and do ruin real countries. However, the fact that the characters battle against him and his policies will remind readers that “the life of the mind confers a peculiar kind of liberty,” as the Brandiwygns learn in captivity. Jacobs’ prose is exceptionally bouncy in tone: “The boys were bright as comets and tough as tungsten.” Throughout, the twins’ fights with trolls and man-eating marshmallows, among other monsters, remain engaging.
Readers young and old will adore the buoyancy of this dystopian adventure.