Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard
by Jonathan Auxier
Recommended Ages: 12+

In this companion book to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, the greatest thief in the world returns with one hand (the other having been replaced by a sword), two eyes (albeit covered by a blindfold, to keep his senses sharp), and his faithful cat/horse/human friend Sir Tode. Peter offers protection to a girl who doesn't think she needs it, as she is about to be swept up in an adventure that will determine the fate of her entire world.

Sophie Quire is a talented bookmender and the daughter of a bookseller in the hinterlands city of Bustleburgh, where a grand inquisitor named Prigg is waging war against "nonsense" - magical creatures and artifacts, and especially stories. As Pyre Day approaches, when all the city's storybooks are due to be burned, Sophie comes in possession of a marvelous book that comes to life to answer any question beginning with "Who." The Book of Who is part of a quartet of books, called the Four Questions, that had something to do with the death of her mother when Sophie was a tiny child. As the last Storyguard, it is up to Sophie to reunite the four books before Prigg puts an end to all the magic in her world - which, according to Peter's friend Professor Cake, would spell the end.

But while the girl and her (at first) unwelcome guardians search for the books of What, Where, and When, others are on the scent after them: a brutish mercenary named Torvald Knucklemeat; an unnaturally well-preserved woman named Madame Eldritch, who deals in drugs, poisons, and other oddities; a tuberous man called Taro, grown from a mandrake root; a silver tigress who has sworn to murder the Storyguard who betrayed her mistress; and various other strange and often menacing characters.

Sophie's quest comes to a climax as full of danger, death, and large-scale property damage as anything in young adult literature. The bowstring of suspense is stretched to an unbelievable degree of tension. And the charms of the characters, often endearingly humorous even amid very serious events, makes one care about what will happen. In particular, the clash between the juvenile cuteness of, say, the chivalrous but silly Sir Tode, and the maturity of the material surrounding them (like a description of a towerful of wild beasts "eating and defecating wherever they pleased"), raises up feelings of protectiveness toward the hero characters. And the solution to their problems is elusive; it comes any way but easily, and demands that they grow as characters.

Canadian-American author Auxier is also the author of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award-nominated The Night Gardener and of The Burning Tide, one of the books in the "Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts" series.

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