The City of Secret Rivers
by Jacob Sager Weinstein
(Walker Books, $23)
Reviewed by Dionne Christian
"When's the next one out?"
We hadn't even shut the book and Miss Eight was already demanding the sequel, not to mention discussing what part she'd play if the story was ever brought to the screen. Her unbridled enthusiasm, combined with recalling quite complicated plot points from chapters we'd read days earlier, shows Weinstein's fantasy is powerful enough to enchant and captivate a young reader.
Luckily for her, and I imagine a fair few others, this is the first in a children's adventure trilogy. Book one, The City of Secret Rivers, is set in London where 12 year old Hyacinth Hayward has arrived from the US following the break-up of her parents' marriage.
A precocious - in the best way - young girl who knows what she likes, Hyacinth's foray into fixing a plumbing issue sees her accidentally unleash the power of the "secret rivers" that run through London. Accompanied by one Lady Roslyn, Hyacinth is soon underground battling magical forces and trying to tell friend from foe.
Reminiscent of the best Dr Who stories, it's a rollicking yarn with lively characters - all slightly weird and wonderful - with more plots twists and turns than a meandering river. Miss Eight had no trouble staying on top of them but I thought some illustrations, not to mention a map or two, might have helped.
I did appreciate that fact it introduced so many facets of London's history and made them interesting; after all, the finer engineering workings of a sewerage system can become a bit tedious, but never in Weinstein's hands.
He's the brother of TV writer/producer Joss Weinstein (Seinfeld and The Simpsons) and humour obviously runs in the family because there's plenty of it here. It would be easy for it to tip into toilet humour, given the setting, but Weinstein is cleverer and more restrained than that.
Like Miss Eight, I am looking forward to book two. If it's anywhere near as intelligent and engaging as the first story, it'll be a delight.