© Emily Rodda, cover illustration © Martin McKenna.
I find it strange that the little publisher of cheap paperbacks for kids sold through school book clubs of my childhood is now the largest publisher of books for children in the world. They struck gold with the Harry Potter series, and perhaps came pretty close again with the Hunger Games series. Clearly they would like to have more of those, and publish quite a lot of fantasy for younger readers by new authors, hoping one of them might be their next bonanza. The absence of any author bio in this volume is a sure sign that Emily Rodda is a new writer, and I liked her book.
The Langlander family is a large one with a long history, and it has a matriarch, Aunt Bethany, who gathers the clan once a year for a party in her home, where she tells them all the same old stories about their ancestors. Aunt Bethany also has a prized possession, an ornate music box that young Leo and his cousin Mimi both find fascinating. Leo and Mimi don’t get along, which means that when Mimi comes to stay with Leo and his family, things could get touchy. Mimi’s little yappy dog come with her, upsetting Leo’s family cat, and getting everyone off to a poor start. To make matters worse, Leo has just recently received the music box from Aunt Bethany’s estate, as she recently died, and Mimi is quite jealous.
The two get into some arguments about the box and how to use it, and before long Mimi has accidentally found one of the secrets of the box: it’s also a doorway into a richly devoloped fantasy world, one that’s depicted on the sides of the box in very detailed paintings. As Leo and Mimi find out to their horror, the doorway can work both ways. An evil woman called The Blue Queen emerges from the box and begins ordering them around. Leo tricks her back inside, but not before the woman snatches Mimi’s dog and takes the hapless pooch with her.
Mimi is distraught, and is determined to go into the world of Rondo (the one inside the music box) to get her best friend back. Leo agrees to go with her after much argument, and when they arrive inside they are thrown quickly into a series of dangerous adventures. Everyone they meet seems to have a hidden agenda, but they all agree on one thing: The Blue Queen is the worst thing in their world, and taking her on is pure suicide!
Though some things that happened in this story were predictable, others were not, and the complex relationships, creative magic, and interesting characters kept me turning the pages. It’s a good mix of familiar fantasy elements and fairy tales with some modern twists that worked well for me. And the final scenes in the Blue Queen’s castle were exciting and full of more surprises. Well done, and recommended.