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Sir Seth Thistlewaite and the Kingdom of the Caves by R. Thake

Thake, Richard.  Illus. Vince Chul. Sir Seth Thistlewaite and the Kingdom of the Caves. Owlkids, 2011. Print.

Sir Seth Thistlewaite and the Kingdom of the Caves is the second book in a series detailing the adventures of the eponymous protagonist, his dog Shasta and his friend Sir Ollie Everghettz. Together, the two friends are the Mighty Knights of Right and Honour, knights errant who look for wrongs to right in fantastical lands inhabited by strange creatures ruled by kings and queens. Like the Narnia adventures, these domains lie just beyond our everyday world, but unlike those books, these stories are meant to be comic and fun. More than forty illustrations are incorporated into the text. Together, the text and illustrations suggest the pace and style of an animated cartoon.

The story in this book takes place in the Queendom of Claire, a secret land underneath Puddlewater Pond, a feature of the world of Thatchwych from the first book that Sir Seth enters when he dons his homemade armor fashioned from hockey gear. The water is being drained from Puddlewater pond and the King commissions Sir Seth and Sir Ollie to find out why and stop the leak. In fact, the water is being siphoned out of the pond into the Queendom of Claire below because of a water shortage caused by a malicious elf Ooz (who looks like an ogre). Ooz has blocked Claire’s primary river because his pet dinosaur Grak has eaten most of the trees in the queendom, leaving deserts in his wake, and Ooz wants the queen to let Grak graze in the royal gardens.

Sir Seth and Sir Ollie are commissioned (anew) by the Queen of Claire to unblock the river, and so they set out across the desert, called the Sadlands, in search of Ooz, hooking up with feisty princess Sundra Neeth and the dubiously helpful family of Fibbs along the way. When Ooz captures the search party, he hatches a new plan to hold the princess for ransom until the queen gives him possession of the entire land of Claire. Ooz leaves our heroes in his cave with Grak and sets off to meet the queen, but the prisoners escape and rush back to the castle to try to prevent him from executing his plan.

Thake aims for an outsized, slightly absurdist style to convey a sense of adventure and fun: alliterations, rhymes, and puns are sprinkled throughout; two or three adjectives are usually thought better than one; and characteristics tend to be exaggerated, meaning that big is gigant-o-normous, and small is tinier than the teensiest speck of dust on the underside of a mitochondria.

Similarly, events in the plot don’t transpire, rather, they tend to happen all of a sudden and cause widespread dumbstruck-edness. This hyperbolic style is tough to maintain and it is successful in some places more than others; at a certain point, constant surprise ceases to be surprising and characters are weakened when they share the same reactions. Chui’s clean illustrations hit all the right notes and add a lot to the book.

While the book is mainly plot driven, it does convey other messages worth mentioning. The knights enter each unknown situation without bias, demonstrate tolerance when encountering strange creatures, and encourage others to explore untapped potential. Also, the plot is a kind of lesson in environmental activism. When Princess Sundra Neeth discovers that the Sadlands are not barren after all, but populated by many desert creatures, she promises that, as queen, she will “make sure these Sadlands become glad again.” Age K-6.

Recommended with reservations:  2 stars out of 4
Reviewer: John Huck

John Huck is a metadata and cataloguing librarian at the University of Alberta. He holds an undergraduate degree in English literature and maintains a special interest in the spoken word. He is also a classical musician and has sung semi-professionally for many years.