Today’s book review is for The Queen and the Nobody Boy, by Barbara Else, published by Gecko Press. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Hodie is an unpaid odd-jobs boy working at the royal palace of Fontania. One day, he decides that he’s finally had enough and strikes out to the south to start his new life. The problem is, he has a tag-along: 12-year old Queen Sibilla, who is tired of all the gossip about her magical abilities (or lack thereof). She decides that the two of them must reclaim the sack of junk taken from Hodie by visiting dignitaries from neighboring Um’Binnia, even though Hodie doesn’t really care about recovering it. He’d rather go off on his own. But no matter how hard he tries to go off to his new life in the south, Hodie can’t seem to shake the little Queen. Instead he’ll brave new dangers, discover secrets, eat bizarre food, and aid rebellion to save Fontania–and discover himself.
The Queen and the Nobody Boy is a lively modern adventure fairy tale for children ages 10 and up. Else’s narrative style reminds me a bit of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket. There’s a real playfulness to her language. It’s not just that she’s produced a compelling story, but that she’s also managed to tell it in a style that sucks you in. In many middle grades and young adult novels, the narrative prose is secondary to the story. Typically the only time I really notice it is when it’s not terribly good. In this case, I noticed because it was so refreshingly fun to read.
I also loved the world-building in this book. There’s a lot that you’d expect–palaces and gowns and pouches of gold. But there is a lot that is unexpected and whimsical, as well. There are magical dragon eagles in Fontania, who can talk to a select group of people. Um’Binnia is full amazing inventions, most notably their windtrains–which are innovative and sometimes terrifying. There are strange places with deadly obstacles, such as bridges that can spike you or the caverns where the wind trains travel. There are elaborately moustached men. There’s even a royal swear word (but you’ll have to look in the end notes to discover what exactly it is.) In short, you’ve never visited a literary world quite like this before.
When I was about two thirds of the way through the book, I was looking up something about the author and discovered that this was the second book written about Fontania. If I hadn’t stumbled upon it, I never would have known from reading the book. Which, if you think about it, is pretty impressive. That’s because anything you need to know for the story to make sense is right there, in the book. There’s absolutely no assumption that the audience is familiar with the history of Fontania. So, don’t let that little bit of knowledge stop you from jumping in.
Do you ever get so caught up in a book that you feel compelled to tell your partner or other family members about new plot twists as you’re reading? That’s how I was with this book. I even paraphrased it for my 2-year old when she wanted me to tell her a story. Is it any wonder that I’m giving it 5 stars? I hope that other kids and kids-at-heart will share in my joy of journeying through this strange world with young Hodie and the rest.
You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.