Author: Jonathan Auxier
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: August 1st 2011
Hardcover: 381 pages
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery. One fateful afternoon, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher—a box that contains three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he is instantly transported to a hidden island where he is presented with a special quest: to travel to the dangerous Vanished Kingdom and rescue a people in need. Along with his loyal sidekick—a knight who has been turned into an unfortunate combination of horse and cat—and the magic eyes, he embarks on an unforgettable, swashbuckling adventure to discover his true destiny.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did we get this book: ARCs from the Publisher (via BEA)
Why did we read this book: It sounded good, it looked good and above all: it had the potential to be really, really good. A story about a blind thief? We’re in!
Ana: I am just going to be upfront and start by saying: this book broke my heart. I love stories with thieves as protagonists and I was most intrigued and happy to see a blind kid as the main character of this story. And I was delighted with about 99% of the book: it is a fun book, it is wonderfully written, the story itself has awesome twists and turns and right up until the very ending I was a very happy reader. And then everything was RUINED by one single event – one single event that to me, comes with a lot of negative connotations and effectively ruined the whole experience for me (I will talk about it in depth below in a separate section with SPOILER WARNING).
For now, I will simply repeat: this book broke my heart.
Thea: I, on the other hand, disagree! I have no problem saying this: I think that Ana is off her rocker. Peter Nimble is a charming, adventurous, delightful gem of a novel about a brave boy that is both a thief and a hero. I loved it from start to end. That is all.
On the Plot:
Ana: Peter Nimble is the greatest thief that has ever lived – and he is only a 10 year old blind orphan. If you are surprised by this, don’t be because as the omniscient narrator tells us:
For those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware that they make the very best thieves.
And just like that, the whimsical tone of this story is set. And what a story this is! When Peter was a baby, he was found floating in a basket in the ocean, a raven perched on his face, eating his eyes. Taken to a city that had no need for a blind baby, he was left to fend for himself, which he does by becoming a great thief. His talents are eventually exploited by Mr Seamus, who takes the boy in and makes him steal for him. Until one day, Peter steals a box containing three pairs of Fantastic Eyes. The first pair, is a transportation pair and he is taken to a different kingdom where he is offered a choice and a mission: he is to be the hero answering a plea from a long-forsaken kingdom under the tyranny of a cruel King. With the aid of a Cursed Knight and nothing but his smarts and the pairs of Fantastic Eyes, Peter embarks on a journey that will change his life forever.
It is really hard to condense the plot of Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes like this because so many things happen in this story and it is hard to convey how great the story is, with its twists and turns, ups and downs. Although the story and where it was going was fairly predictable from the start, this is not really the point. Because the writing is so whimsical and engaging and journey itself so fantastic and creative that it doesn’t really matter that at its core, this is another story which follows a Special Orphan. As we all know, an unoriginal premise can turn into a fabulous story in the hands of a good author with good ideas. And this author just gets it right. I love the different places Peter went to and how there was different types of thieves and heists, for example.
One particular thing that I absolutely loved about the story, was Jonathan Auxier’s way with words and how he played with language itself. For example, at one point Peter is stranded in a place called “Just Deserts” which is a well, desert where criminals were sent to spend the rest of their lives in (get it? the play with words? I thought that this was so cool. But I am a geek like that). And how about this one:
Peter awoke to the smell of flour. Not the boring perennials that wise men are constantly badgering us to stop and smell, but the white powdery stuff meant for baking and booby traps.
SO much fun and just another aspect that I loved about the story.
Thea: I agree that the plotting and style of the storytelling is fantastic and what makes Peter Nimble stand out in a sea of other Brave Young Orphan Saves the Day stories. Related by an invisible narrator that occasionally addresses the audience in charming (if somewhat familiar, in the style of Lemony Snicket) asides, this is a book about adventure, destiny, justice, and magic. I loved the whimsical nature of the book and the storytelling, which provides little pearls of insightfulness – in a nonsensical, childhood imagination fashion – along the way. For example, regarding a thief and his fervent desire for a drop of lemon juice:
“What good would a drop of lemon do your tooth?”
Those of you who are asking the very same question have clearly never been pirates or buccaneers. If you had been, then you would know that lemons and other citrus fruits are used to defend against a nasty disease called “scurvy.” Scurvy comes from a lack of a magical vitamin that prevents one’s teeth from rotting away during ocean voyages, which is why they call it “Vitamin Sea.” Sailors are prone to this disease because, as you may know, lemons and oranges do not grow in the ocean. For this reason, citrus fruits are a precious commodity aboard boats, worth even more than gold.
Yes, very whimsical indeed.
So far as the actual story goes, it’s, well, fantastic. From the dockside slums to a mysterious island surrounded by ALL the waters of the world, to the desert on the edge of a vanished kingdom, and a “perfect” palace, Peter Nimble follows the adventures of a heroic young vagabond and the world’s greatest thief (with the help of a Knight Errant…trapped in the bodies of a cat and horse). Yes, it is as extravagant and wonderful as it sounds.
In fact, the only criticism I have for the book is completely beyond the power of the author. The reason Peter Nimble falls short, for me, is because I’ve already read a whimsical, magical, incredible book in this style earlier this year and it will forever be the yardstick to which I measure other stories of this nature. That book, of course, is Cathrynne M. Valente’s masterful The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.
On the Characters:
Ana: Oh, there are so many wonderful characters in this story! From Peter with his resourcefulness, smarts and reluctant heroism to all the friends he makes. Like for example Sir Tode, the not-so-noble Knight who joins him on his quest and who becomes his steadfast companion. And Peg, the girl he meets halfway through leader of Missing Ones (who reminded me a lot of Peter Pan’s The Lost Boys).
But I think that my favourite characters were the Ravens. Without spoiling too much because there is a great plot point about which side some of the Ravens were on but I truly loved the role they had to play. And did you know that a company of Ravens (i.e. the collective noun)is called “unkindness”? I never knew that!
I also loved that the author did not shy away from letting good characters die violent deaths or get maimed because this story is after all, a fight between Good and Evil.
Thea: As with any proper Adventure, this book is populated by a cast of wonderful, strange, and sufficiently villainous characters. Our hero, the titled Peter Nimble is an orphan who was blinded as a babe, but quickly became the world’s greatest sneak-thief because of his other sharpened senses and desire to survive. Peter is an endearing young man, who is not saccharine-sweet good (there’s one point where he treats his best friend very poorly indeed – but learns his lesson), but brave and noble just the same. I loved that Peter is shown with his share of self doubts – as a thief, he hardly thinks he can be a hero – which adds a layer of depth to an otherwise straightforward character. My favorite characters of the bunch had to be Princess Peg, the dethroned heiress who has been forced to live underground and form her own resistance effort, and the hilarious, Puss-in-Boots character of Sir Tobe. Tobe, as we’ve said before, is a knight – or he was one before he angered the wrong hag and was forced into the body of a cat (along with his horse). Hilarious, kind-hearted and loyal, I loved the friendship that blossomed between Peter and his noble friend Sir Tobe. As our faceless narrator says:
Being wise, Professor Cake knew that any relationship not beinning with a punch or two would most assuredly fade over time: it is a well-known fact that brawling begets friendship. Already Peter and Sir Tode were planting seeds of a mutual respect that might one day blossom into something far greater – a friendship to rival the stuff of legends.
My only quip with characters is that the villains were kind of simple and two dimensional in their villainy. But, as Ana says, this is a story about Good and Evil, so perhaps that isn’t so surprising.
On the Ending:
**Spoiler warning! The section below contains spoilers. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED**
Ana: In the end, the time comes for Peter to use the third pair of eyes and those pair of eyes turn out to be HIS original eyes and he is therefore, blind no more. To be honest, I feared something like this might happen throughout the book and I read the whole book with a mix of excitement for how good it was and fear that at some point Peter would recover his sight. As the story progressed and nothing like that happened, I relaxed a bit until the end. And then everything changed.
My problem with this is that blindness, obviously, can not be cured by magic. The book might be Fantasy but blindness is something really real, that happen to real people, to real kids. What is this event really saying? That being an awesome blind thief, with an awesome family and friends, and a Kingdom to run is not enough, that the character will only be completely happy and whole if he has his vision back. Of course I understand that being blind comes with unfathomable hardships that someone like me, who is not blind can never hope to understand and unfortunately blind people have no choice but to deal with those hardships. Up until that point, the story was awesome because it acknowledged this at the same time that it made Peter an amazing character who relied on smarts and his other senses to get through life and was not completely defined by being blind. Then he gets miraculously granted his vision back and it just felt wrong. There was absolutely no need for this to happen and unfortunately it effectively ruined what was otherwise a wonderful book for me. I feel really, really strongly about this.
Thea: This is the part where I say Ana is off her rocker. I agree that Peter recovering his sight at the end – with the last pair of magic, fantastic eyes – was a bit fairytale-ish, but this is a fairytale! And isn’t that what happens in the vast majority of fairytales? The Beast transforms back into a handsome prince, the evil curse is lifted, the wronged are rewarded, those that have been blighted are vindicated.
I don’t think Peter’s blindness and the awesomeness of having a blind protagonist was in any way diminished by the return of his rightful eyes. He still saved the kingdom, his friends, his family, and he did it all when he was blind and because he was blind. Had he been able to see, he would not have been able to embark on this adventure and save the day. It’s a grade-A Happy Ending, but I don’t think it says or belittles anything about being blind. I understand the concern, but I think it’s misplaced because this is a fairytale and a book about magical eyes, after all. But, that’s just my opinion.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: I am at a loss here. I loved most of the book and think kids would totally love it too. But the cop-out ending makes me sick and sad and uncomfortable and I don’t feel I can really recommend it.
Thea: I, on the other hand, think that Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is a truly winsome, whimsical story that should be read and enjoyed by all. Absolutely recommended.
Notable Quotes/Parts: After a conversation between Peter and a small beetle:
Well, that was a perfectly useless conversation,” he said with a sigh. Now, there is a wonderful thing in this world called “foresight.” It is a gift treasured above all others because it allows one to know what the future holds. Most people with foresight end up wielding immense power in life, often becoming great rulers or librarians. Sadly, Peter (being a ten-year-old boy) was built without any capacity for foresight. And so he continued walking, unaware of how his chance encounter with a grumpy insect would prove to be nothing short of transformational.
Ana: If the ending hadn’t happened like it did? This book would have been a 7/8. But it did and I can’t forget that to the point where I won’t be able to rate it.
Thea: 7 – Very Good
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