Friday, September 23, 2016


by Sam Gayton
Recommended Ages: 10+

Hercufleas is a flea - an unusually large, talking flea, but still, a flea. Nevertheless, from the very day he hatches out of his egg, he wants to be a hero. He gets that chance in short order, thanks to his fleamily's position as employfleas - you see where this is going - of a man who rents out heroes. Along comes a girl named Greta, from a town named Tumber, whose citizens are being guzzled by an indestructible giant named Yuk. They have tried hiring heroes before, but none of them has managed to stop Yuk guzzling the Tumberfolk. Nothing will do but a giant-slayer, Greta says. At first Mr. Stickle tries to refuse to risk his valuable heroes on this foolish venture, but when Greta threatens to spread word of this, he takes her money, has the fleas type up the contract, and then sets her up with a couple of villains who are meant to kill her. Hercufleas, stowing away in her clothes for a taste of adventure, helps her escape, and Greta decides he will be the hero to save her village.

What with one thing and another, they don't even make it back to Tumber before Greta has changed her mind about Hercufleas. They end up having to go on a huge, dangerous quest together before she believes her flea friend can save her town. Along the way, he has to discover a hero he never knew he had within him - one brave enough and wise enough to refuse to fight evil with evil, yet somehow strong enough to defeat a rampaging giant before he comes back to Tumber to guzzle the last survivors.

This is an amazingly entertaining story, for an adventure featuring a bloodsucking parasite. It unfolds in a strange and whimsical world where Czars leave doomsday weapons in Arctic fortresses guarded by mouseketeers; where the woodn't (woods you wouldn't want to visit) is full of deadly creatures such as grizzly squirrels and a cross between rattlesnakes and oak trees called, ahem, rattlesnoaks. It has a flightless bird that can be ridden like a horse, a pig that can shoot bullets out of its snout, a musical instrument that enables its player to fly, and various other magical and alchemical innovations. It also depicts feelings of grief, anger, guilt, and despair with touching honesty, respectfully observing Greta's quest for healing in a world that can, nevertheless, never be the same for her.
It shines a light on the essence of heroism, the ethics of fighting evil with evil, and the links between faith, friendship, and bravery. It carries a suprising amount of weight for something seemingly so lightweight, and carries it, moreover, with flawless charm and grace.

Sam Gayton is an English author and playwright whose other books include The Snow Merchant, a.k.a. The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn, His Royal Whiskers, and Lilliput. I already want to see more of his work. This book, published in 2015 in the U.K., is scheduled for U.S. release Oct. 4, 2016. This review is based on a pre-publication proof made available through Netgalley dot com.

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