Between the whimsical drawings and the whimsical text, this book was sure to delight me, and it did. I started off reading it with my daughter, but I was impatient and read all the way to the end on my own.
Clover is a sensible girl, in a quite extraordinary situation, yet she always manages to keep her composure and her sensible nature to cope with the chaos around her. I enjoyed Clover, but I admit that what won me over were the wonderful scenes with the evil witch Mesmeranza.
Mesmeranza is vain and vengeful, but perhaps not the most effective Evil Witch, as she relies on her mousy secretary Miss Fly and her assorted other servants to carry out the various Plans she thinks up. Here, she dictates to Miss Fly her To Do list for The Plan:
"Put the shoes first."
"The shoes go first. Before anything else, I need the right shoes. These red ones."
Mesmeranza stabbed at a page in the catalog with a crimson talon. The shoes she was pointing at were bright red and strappy, with perilously high heels.
"Haven't you got enough shoes?" ventured Miss Fly, who went for more sensible brown wide-fitting flats.
"No," said Mesmeranza, firmly. "Shoes are vitally important. What have I always said, Fly? Get the shoes right, and everything else follows smoothly. We don't all have to go around with Yeti feet like you. So the list now reads, Shoes, Cake, Disguise, Boy."
The book is a breezy and funny light read, but the language is beautiful and the vocabulary rich. There's nothing too scary, but it's quite funny, particularly the contrast between the way Mesmeranza perceives her wicked and brilliant schemes and the way everyone else sees them.
Cats play an important role, as do cakes, and an invisible horse. They are all well drawn, with a level of cheerful realism, even the ones that are magical and thus shouldn't necessarily be realistic at all.
On the cats:
Here we are again, back in Castle Coldiron. The weather has not improved. Storms are blowing in from the north. Miss Fly's cats are restless. They just slump around shedding hair, watching the clouds gather, and demanding more fish heads. Miss Fly is beside herself. Not only is her room full of chunks of fallen ceiling plaster, frankly, it's getting rather stinky.
The suggested age range of 9+ is about right for most kids in terms of the difficulty, but this is a novel that would be a good choice for a precocious younger reader as well - there's nothing too scary or too grown up here. It is also a perfectly wonderful read for an adult of any age, with or without the excuse of a child to read it to.
I loved this book, and I look forward to seeking out other titles by Ms. Umansky.