Jonathan Auxier’s first book, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, was a fast-moving and wildly inventive tale of a blind 10-year-old master thief who becomes the king of a magical realm with the help of his trusted companion, Sir Tode, a tale-spinning knight who is part cat, part horse. The book threw so many twists and wild ideas into the mix, it sometimes felt as if the whole thing had been written in a single, all-night binge of imagination.
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, a companion to Peter Nimble, is every bit as inventive and enjoyable, though with a greater sense of narrative focus, and possessed of a darker tone. It plays with some very familiar kidlit themes – the power of imagination versus cold, hard reality; the magic of storytelling – yet manages to make them feel fresh.
Twelve-year-old Sophie Quire works in her father’s bookshop (named Quire & Quire, of all things), mending damaged volumes and tomes. In her town of Bustleburgh, the powers that be are campaigning against “nonsense” (i.e., stories, magic, fairy tales, etc.) and whipping the populace into a book-burning frenzy. And then, out of nowhere, Peter Nimble (now 12, and more of an adventurer than a king) and Sir Tode appear with an ancient book for Sophie to mend. The book turns out to be one of four magical volumes that, when brought together, can wield amazing and terrible power. (For all the book’s whimsy, there is also a lot of death and violence.)
The tale of Sophie, Peter, and Sir Tode’s race to find all four volumes before the eradicators of nonsense do borrows liberally from many fantasy and adventure stories, but this is done in the spirit of seeing all yarns, no matter how fantastical, as part of the very air we breathe. Auxier’s story is one that kids will inhale in one huge gulp.