Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier: Whimsical adventure
see also Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard
Overall rating: 9/10
Quality of writing: 9/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): less
Age level: 10 and up
In this fun take on the classic quest-story, Jonathan Auxier tells the story of Peter Nimble, a poor blind thief boy who gains magical powers and learns that he is the heir of the mysterious Vanished Kingdom. Along the way, he meets characters ranging from silly to serious, and learns valuable lessons about redemption and family. Although this book incorporates some well-known elements (protagonist with humble beginnings, epic quest, protagonist gaining magic powers and kingdom, etc), Auxier has a fresh and amusing take on even the most well-worn motifs, and Peter Nimble is an excellent read because of it. With action and plenty of humor and plot twists, this is not a book to be missed!
The plot of this book charts a course that will throw most readers for a loop—not in a bad way, but a loop nevertheless. The book starts out with Peter working as a pickpocket for Mr. Seamus, an unpleasant man who employs him to steal various items. However, the book’s action takes a quick turn when Peter meets the mysterious traveling salesman known as the Haberdasher, from whom he pickpockets a strange box containing three sets of magical eyes (the titular “Fantastic Eyes”). After using one set of eyes, Peter is instantly teleported to a distant island, home of the genial Professor Cake (a bit surprising, but Auxier keeps it believable in-story).
Peter then meets Sir Tode, a knight who has been transformed into a cat, and learns that Professor Cake originally sent him the Fantastic Eyes. Professor Cake then commissions Peter and Sir Tode to travel to the long-lost Vanished Kingdom. The two set out on their quest and encounter various difficulties along the way (including the vast “Just Deserts” (a literal desert) and unfriendly ravens), eventually arriving in the Vanished Kingdom where they discover Peter’s lost sister and learn that Peter himself is the heir to the kingdom. Unfortunately, Peter’s evil uncle Incarnadine has usurped the throne and brainwashed the people, resulting in an epic struggle between Peter and Incarnadine at the book’s climax.
The initial portion of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is a bit unconventional in terms of plot progression, but once the main quest appears, it proceeds in a more straightforward manner (and one that’s still plenty exciting and engaging). Overall, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes has an interesting and well thought-out plot and merits an 8/10.
Jonathan Auxier does an excellent job of creating unique and amusing characters in this book. For example, while Peter fits the archetype of “protagonist with humble beginnings,” he differs from most other main characters in being blind, which in turn sets up some very interesting story elements (such as the magical Fantastic Eyes). Another character who exemplifies this is Sir Tode, a knight who has been transformed into a strange cat-like animal but retains his ability to speak. As a sidekick-type character, Sir Tode adds humor to the story, but also demonstrates bravery and loyalty; he is on the whole a rather well-rounded character as secondary characters go.
On the other hand, there is also the villain of the story, Lord Incarnadine—a classic example of moustache-twirling evil-laughing villainry. While the book does detail some of his backstory, it’s clear that he is largely one-sided and serves primarily as an obstacle to the protagonists. However, this isn’t a problem, considering a book for this age range probably shouldn’t dive too deeply into the villain’s thoughts, etc. Overall, Peter Nimble merits a 9/10 on characters.
Auxier’s writing is not overly difficult: the dialogue is engaging but straightforward; the plot (once the main storyline is truly underway) is clear, and the characters are memorable and readily distinguished from one another. The book is admittedly on the longer side (381 pages in my edition), but the rollicking action makes it easy to keep reading. Overall, this book does not present terribly many challenges difficulty-wise. (3/10)
Quality of writing
The writing in this book is commendable on many levels. Like I mentioned before, Auxier’s characterization and plot are very nicely carried out, but he also does a good job of creating an interesting fictional world with its own histories and places. As in many great works of fantasy, readers will get the feeling that there is always more beyond the scope of the story—more people and places that we don’t get to see. Furthermore, Auxier also does remarkably at making readers care about the characters, especially Peter Nimble— a very sympathetic protagonist. Peter Nimble is on the whole a very well-written book for its intended age range and merits a 9/10 on writing quality.
While this book contains no problematic language or sexual content, there is a certain amount of violence. One character is pecked to death by ravens (not described directly— Auxier merely notes that it happened), and Peter has his hand lacerated by a suit of mechanical armor belonging to Lord Incarnadine. Several characters also receive sword or dagger wounds, and readers encounter a number of enslaved and mistreated people under Incarnadine’s rule. However, these instances keep generally within the level of detail I would consider appropriate for this age range. The worst violence is probably found in the description of Peter being wounded, which says: “He screamed as clockwork chewed through skin and fingernail and bone and the pain of a thousand hot pokers ripped through him,” but that’s as bad as it gets.
I recommend this book for ages 10 and up, based on its readable style and level of concerning content. However, readers and parents of readers should always use their own good judgement in this area.