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Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Grave Robber's Apprentice, written by Allan Stratton. Harper, 2012. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"Hans found himself at a traveling circus. The ringmaster was a skeleton; the acrobats were rats in red-spangled tights. Meanwhile, Angela was having tea with Georgina von Hoffen-Toffen. "I didn't drown in the bath," Georgina simpered. "I drowned at sea. See how the fish ate my eyeballs." An eel swam in and out of her sockets, and every time she spoke a school of sardines swam out of her mouth."

And those were their dreams!  Two kids on the run, for very different reasons. We meet Hans first:

"The boy in the chest was a babe, scarce a year old. He wore a white linen cap and nightshirt, and was bundled tight in a fine woolen blanket. the sound of the waves was a comfort to him after the screams he'd heard before the chest had been sealed."

The wooden chest that is his refuge is found by Knobbe, a grave robber, who is none too pleased to find a chest full of baby rather than the riches that would make his life easier. There is something about that baby that haunts Knobbe and causes him to have pity and take him with him, away from the shore. Twelve years later we meet them again. Hans is not enamored of the life he leads with Knobbe and has no desire to follow in his footsteps.

Next, we meet Angela:

"Angela gazed out the turret window to the barrens on the horizon. All she cared about was her theatre, but Nurse was right. It was a nursery. Despite her titles she was a child, a girl, a nothing. Her future? To marry some stranger and be stuck in his castle far from home. Her only pretending would be pretending to be happy."

Countess Angela Gabriela con Schwanenberg and Hans, foster son of a grave robber; together they embark on a journey that is filled with terror, humor, unbridled action and great adventure. Hans wants only to help the girl he has watched from afar and escape from the life that seems his destiny. Angela wants to escape the clutches of His Royal Highness Achduke Arnulf, who is determined to acquire a large dowry and make the thirteen-year-old Angela his next wife, only one in a long line of young women who have mysteriously met death on their wedding nights. When she escapes his clutches, he imprisons her parents. She and Hans must find a way to save them.

It's hard to put down once you get started. You will find yourself rushing headlong into the ever-changing settings as Angela and Hans try to outwit, outplay, and outrun the evil archduke and his eerie necromancer. As they seek help in their quest to save her parents, they make new and loyal friendships. Their journey is arduous, but fulfilling as they are meet the Wolf King and his followers, Peter and the other hermits, the Pandolini family and their traveling circus. All play an important role that will be rewarded.  

I have a heartfelt affinity for both Angela and Hans, while also appreciating the many other characters who people this fast-paced action adventure. There are many breathtaking moments, filled with fear and a sense of hopelessness, while also edged with humor, ingenuity and fun. Allen Stratton tells a memorable, spellbinding tale that will entertain readers and have them recommending it to everyone they know who loves to read a great book. 

I've given you some hints; it's up to you to put it on your list for the next trip to the library or your favorite bookstore. I guarantee you will love it!

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