The Peddler's Road

368p. ebook available. Knopf. Oct. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385755221; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780385755238.
Gr 4–7—Max and Carter reluctantly join their folklorist father on sabbatical in Hamelin. Yes, that Hamelin. So savvy readers won't express too much surprise when a flood of rats descends from the kitchen vent and the mysterious exterminator who comes to fix the rodent problem actually lures the pair to a fantastical land called the Summer Isle. There, Max and Carter discover a walled village built by the 130 children led away in the familiar Pied Piper tale, a group desperately working to defend themselves against an array of nefarious magical beings who populate the rest of the Isle. In Will in Scarlet (Knopf, 2013), Cody reimagined the Robin Hood legend with verve and charm, focusing on a young protagonist. In this first book of a projected trilogy, Cody attempts a similar feat on a more ambitious scale, meshing contemporary and historical characters as well as folkloric creatures from multiple European traditions. An endearing, resourceful team—the siblings plus three medieval Hameliners—undertake a treacherous journey across the Isle, during which Cody ably delineates each character's personality to yield distinct perspectives on their quandary. In a loving yet complicated sibling dynamic, older sister Max struggles to concede responsibility for her goofier brother, who handles his physical disability with stubborn aplomb. Juggling a squad of children, a Piper-opposing wizard (the titular Peddler), and a prophetic map, Cody's saga furnishes much pleasing kerfuffle but sometimes feels frustratingly diffuse. The ending sets up an obvious path for book two, and while many elements of this book augur rip-roaring sequels, readers may wish that the first had provided more narrative focus and a firmer resolution.
VERDICT This opener assembles a promising collection of characters and fairy tale elements but leaves the motley components scattered a smidgen too wide.

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