The pitch: Peter Nimble, blind Dickensian orphan, is forced into thieving, eventually learning to be the best thief there is. One day he steals a mysterious box from a very odd stranger, catapulting him into a journey to reclaim a faraway kingdom for its rightful ruler.
It’s trying for a sort of whimsically snarky Lemony Snicket meets Roald Dahl feel. On a micro level it succeeds: the writing is droll and made me laugh out loud on a number of occasions. “As you might imagine,” the narrator notes at one point, “monstrous sea creatures from the deep are far too large to fit through conventional plumbing.”
The plot and characters, though, are too generic for me to get excited about this one. Peter, of course, was born for a Great Destiny, which you can probably figure out just from my vague opening paragraph. The whole story has the feel of a video game: the series of problems Peter and his friends face have complex step-by-step solutions which require seemingly disconnected items they’d collected along the way, and the adult characters exist only to throw up roadblocks or dispense information.
Mild spoiler: For example, the box Peter steals from the stranger, Prof. Cake, contains three sets of eyes which will fit in Peter’s empty sockets. (His eyes were pecked out by a raven when he was a baby.) Prof. Cake, of course, won’t tell Peter what the eyes do — “that would be like telling you what to do,” Cake says. “But you’ll know when it’s time to use them.” Argh, I hate You Will Know What to Do! It’s such an unbelievably lazy way to draw out the plot. And what kind of kid says, “You got it, strange dude I’ve only just met who’s giving me weird magical presents. I will very obediently wait until the Right Moment to try these out; I will in no way try them all right now“?
Big spoiler: And of course, from a disability perspective the end is pretty problematic. I was willing to let all the “As everyone knows, blind children make the best thieves” business go, because it’s so over the top that it’s clearly not meant to be taken seriously. But of course, the third pair of eyes are Peter’s own eyes. He gets his sight back as a reward for being a hero and a prince. Because of course he couldn’t rule the kingdom and still be blind; that would be ridiculous!