Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Byzantium Bazaar

The Byzantium Bazaar
by Stephen Elboz
Recommended Ages: 11+

Bridie begins to worry when her Gramps fails to meet her at the train station. She has been sent to visit him while the aunt she lives with recovers from surgery. But not only is Gramps not at home when she arrives at his salvage yard in a depressed part of the city; his cats, hens, and donkey are gone too. The nasty Crickbone twins, Amos and Deakin, have taken the place over, and they throw Bridie out on the street, stealing her luggage into the bargain. She has nowhere to go but Soap Hill, where the city's street people congregate around fires, and begin asking if anyone has seen her Gramps.

While no one seems to know where the old fellow went, a young fellow named Branwell offers to show her where Gramps' donkey lives. He leads Bridie to the Byzantium Bazaar, a dilapidated department store that his mother, Mrs. Firbanks, has turned into a shelter for abused and neglected animals. Bridie becomes a long-term guest there, helping feed the hundreds of cats and all the other tasks that need doing. But when Omar, the king of the street people, locates her Gramps, Bridie finds herself at the center of a terrible conflict between the animal-loving Firbankses and the seedy, greedy Crickbones. The thrilling action includes a daring rescue from a scene of animal cruelty, a battle in a junkyard between gangsters and street people, and an awful deal with the enemy that puts Bridie in the most danger of all.

Like most Elboz books that I have read, this one fits a lot into a few pages: characters for whom readers will cherish strong feelings; a strangely charming picture of a city's underbelly; crises not only of personal safety but of conscience as well. It shows the urban poor in a sympathetic light, but it also depicts frightening villains. In the Crickbones it conjures loathesome figures for whom, at the end, one feels a throb of pity. In Omar, it creates an impressive, perhaps even mythically powerful figure. In Shah, the king of the cats, it furnishes Omar with a four-legged equal. And in Bridie, it has a heroine who is totally out of her depth, yet still overcomes; a girl protagonist whose flaws and weaknesses provide the humanizing touches of a character with whom we wholly sympathize.

Besides the Kit Stixby quartet and three other books I have already reviewed, Stephen Elboz has also written The House of Rats, The Bottle Boy, A Store of Secrets, and several other interesting titles that I guess would make excellent reading choices to take along on a trip when you have to travel light. He seems especially skilled at writing a richly furnished world into existence with an economy of words that never seems stingy, and at fitting a lot of fun into a few pages.

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