FICTION

Casper Tock and the Everdark Wings

Aladdin. (Unmapped Chronicles: Bk. 1). Jan. 2020. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534443075.
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Gr 4-7–The ultimate underdog, Casper Tock attends Little Wallops British boarding school where his parents teach. Casper faces torment from external and internal forces—his British and Tanzanian identity is not appreciated by school bullies while his anxious nature prescribes a scheduled, carefully controlled existence. Imagine his panic when he steps through his grandfather clock into the Unmapped Kingdoms, where the world’s weather originates. He soon meets a girl named Utterly Thankless whose brusque manner hides her true feelings. They traverse the kingdoms trying to stop Morg the harpy’s minions from stealing weather marvels. Memorable characters (including Utterly’s miniature dragon Arlo, the hilariously nasty drizzle hags, and Zip, the hot air balloon with pizzazz) speed their quest along. Elphinstone has created a detailed, terminology-laden magical world, which keeps its head above water because of the narrative’s whimsy as well as its grounded, sympathetic characters. Casper and Utterly are superb foils; Casper is fearful but willing to be friendly while Utterly is a daredevil but emotionally distant. Arlo acts as the charming intermediary who bridges the gaps and encourages them to collaborate. The episodic nature of the adventures gives structure to the wealth of names, regions, and powers while the individual creatures they meet range from grumpy hags to delicate sprites to taciturn ogres. Readers who wade through the magical backstory and reach Casper’s chapters will not be disappointed.
VERDICT This jam-packed middle grade fantasy may require a little hand-selling, but the characters’ journey is extremely satisfying.

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