Sunday, June 19, 2011

Arty -- Bartlett And The Ice Voyage

The Queen has tasted every fruit that her seven countries have to offer... except for one. The melidrop is the only one that has ever eluded her grasp. The reason for this is because, after one day from being plucked from its root, the melidrop rots - and the queen lives months away from the land where the melidrop grows.

Being a queenly sort of queen, she becomes obsessed with the elusive fruit, going so far as to ban the mention of melidrops, because if she can't enjoy them, nobody can. It's then that they bring in Bartlett - explorer extraordinaire, if the previous expert explorer, Sutton Pufrock, can be believed.

Bartlett isn't actually that impressive. He's a stringy, shabby little man with freckles and wild hair. But he has the necessary attributes for a model explorer - Inventiveness, Perseverance, and Desperation. So off the Queen sends him with his partner, Jacques le Grand, to find a way to transport the tantalizing melidrop to the impatient Queen.

Obviously, this is a book for a slightly younger audience than my usual review. But that's okay, because this was actually an engaging, interesting read. Was it a little heavy-handed, a little too unlikely, a little obvious sometimes? Sure. But was it trite or easy or uninteresting? No way.

The forthright plot makes it easy to get right down to business: finding out a way to transport the melidrop. There are really no subplots at all, unless you count the sections where the Queen and her best counselor are talking about patience. (Even this, by the way, doesn't turn into too much of a sermon, because Hirsch really has a way with subtle but effectual humor, which he uses during these parts.) Though the lack of backstory sometimes annoyed me - Bartlett is a really likable character, and I wanted to know more about him - it's not too much of a problem once you grasp what kind of a book this is. It's not a character growth novel (unless you count the Queen) - it's an adventure novel, pure and simple.

I just mentioned that Bartlett is a great character - he's funny but not a clown, not talkative but not quiet, intelligent and honest. (Actually, he'd be something of a Gary Stu in another book, but since this is a kid's adventure, it's all just fine.) And Jacques le Grand is a perfect foil for him - silent, strong and brawny, but just as adventurous and inventive as Bartlett. The Queen is well-done, and her favorite counsellor (I forget his name) is just awesome. I didn't, however, like Sir Hugh, the quintessential Wily Counsellor Groveling and Weaseling for Power, even though he was half necessary for the Queen's subplot. Gozo - a young boy that Bartlett and Jacques pick up during their search for melidrop transportation - also failed to inspire me. Neither of them had much originality or personality going for them.

Still, two characters can't ruin a thoroughly enjoyable book, and Bartlett And The Ice Voyage was thoroughly enjoyable. Hirsch managed to make a simple adventure tale into one of both exploration and Invention, patience and Desperation, and above all, Perseverance. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a fun afternoon read, who isn't afraid of reading a 'kid's book.' Fans of Verne's Around The World In 80 Days might be more interested - it had the same kind of feel to me, especially toward the end.

A sidenote: Persy is out of the country until July 4th, so you'll have to put up with my reviews for another two weeks. Lucky you!

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