The fairytale of Pinocchio, the puppet who becomes a boy, is thrilling twisted in Jean Claude Bemis’s charming middle grade fantasy.
Plot elements familiar from the original Carlo Collodi story (and the Disney movie) are transformed – the puppet show, being swallowed by a whale, Pinocchio’s nose growing – and familiar characters are fleshed out with emotionally resonant personalities, and have story arcs of their own.
The intriguingly inventive, steampunky Venetian Empire is developed over the course of the story and, more fully, in a glossary at the back. A new element introduced to the tale is Abaton, a mystical land that’s the source of all magic brought to the human world, and which seems likely to figure more prominently in a sequel,
As Pinocchio undertakes a quest to find his father, the alchemist Geppetto, he is aided by Mezmer, a vixen, and Sop, a cat, as well as Maestro, a persnickety cricket. Blue-haired Princess Lazuli, daughter of Prester John, the immortal ruler of Abaton, brings some girl power to the team.
Pursued by the forces of the wicked Doge, Pinocchio finds that love, friendship and loyalty are what transforms him from wood to flesh. Though a satisfyingly worked through complete story in itself, this is the first part of a series, and readers will be excited by what’s to come once Bemis leaves the source story behind.