Book review

The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley (2006)

Miles Wednesday, orphaned, unwashed, and living in a barrel... Tricky one this, because on the face of it, there isn't much to recommend the boy. But if you decide to read this story you will soon find out that Miles Wednesday also comes equipped with a true heart.

Now a true heart can be a dangerous thing. It can get you into trouble, as well as out of it. For instance at the circus, a boy with a true heart doesn't just gasp with horror along with the rest of the crowd when the beautiful tiny girl acrobat wobbles, and starts to fall to the ground:

Before he knew what he was doing, he was scrambling through the gap between the bench and the walkway as though he could catch her in his arms, but as he clambered over the seat in front of him the crowd gave another gasp, this time in wonder. Halfway to the ground the girl's fall had suddenly slowed. A pair of delicate pearly wings sprouted from her shoulders, fluttering minutely as she floated gently to the ground.

Is she an angel? Working at the circus? Surely something isn't quite right here? No, it isn't. The little angel is locked up between performances in a small wagon with a large key. Now Miles Wednesday, orphaned, unwashed, but true of heart is about to find out exactly how far a true heart will carry him:

'Who's there?' came a small voice from the barred window.

'Me,' said Miles.
'Can you get me out of here, Me?' said the voice.
'Not Me, Miles,' said Miles.
'Who's Miles?' asked the voice.
'I am,' said Miles. 'And I can't get you out. The door is locked.
'Then you'll need the key,' said the girl.

There's a lot for Miles to do, all of a sudden. He's got people to rescue, friends to make and friends to look after. And help comes, of course, from the most unlikely quarters.

If you like adventure and magic and madness and jollity I think you'll love this story. I know I did. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

This is Jon Berkeley's first novel, but my guess is that there will be more. As you will find out if you read to the end, there is more for Miles Wednesday still to do.

Meanwhile, if you enjoyed The Palace of Laughter, you might like to have a look at these rather gothic stories by Stephen Elboz:

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