By John Claude Bemis
Disney-Hyperion (March 15, 2016)
Reviewed by Sarah Page
It’s always interesting to read a new take on an old story. Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince, is the first part of a new series by John Claude Bemis featuring the familiar character Pinocchio. I was intrigued when I read the synopsis of the book online, and wondered how Bemis might have reimagined these well-known characters. I was slightly hesitant to choose this book because the story of Pinocchio has never really appealed to me. I am, now that I have finished it, glad I read it, rather than adhering to my preconceived notions.
The first character we meet is Pinocchio, an automaton servant that is changing into a human boy. He meets Geppetto, an enemy of the corrupt Venetian empire, and his friend, Maestro, the cricket, who is from Abaton. They learn that the ruler of Abaton, Prester John, has been captured by the villainous Doge of Venice. Prester John’s daughter, Lazuli, is searching for her father and eventually joins forces with Pinocchio and his friends to try to rescue him. Along the way, traveling through different parts of the empire, we meet a range of new characters who paint an accurate picture of the corruption of Venice.
Bemis has created a whole new world for the familiar Pinocchio characters. I love books that do this. I found it fascinating the way the people from Abaton have special powers and how the Doge harnesses that power for his own ends. All the nonhuman characters felt original, each had their own goals and loyalties, regardless of where they came from.
Bemis creates an entertaining and interesting world that mixes reality and fantasy into a wonderful new cocktail. The Venetians, the antagonists, use alchemy and Abatonion magic to create awesome flying machines. I was surprised to find how real and complete their universe was. This is not something you always find in books with magical backdrops. The people are funny, like the character of Sop, who is a half-beast that Pinocchio meets during his travels.
It is fascinating to see how Pinocchio, who has no idea what it’s like to be alive, changes into a human with real emotions and then goes even further and becomes a hero. I was struck by how sweet and innocent Pinocchio was. It made him endearing in a way I wasn’t expecting. When he found himself experiencing things for the first time, I realized how much I take some actions or experiences for granted. He was in some aspects more human then he could realize. Meanwhile, we had other characters who had suffered greatly at the hands of the Venetians, or who were moved by either their pasts or their aspirations (like the character of Mezmer), or their personalities.
The style is lovely; flowing in a way that isn’t dull, or overwhelming. Containing epic conflicts and journeys through new lands, the book flew by. With each new location or character, I became more invested. Bemis has a style that conveys a slight sense of humor as characters and scenes unfold. A few tears were shed. Even though I have finished the book I want to know more about Abaton and these exciting characters.
The Wooden Prince is a book for anyone who enjoys adventure, magic, with a healthy dose of humor. This was the first book by John Claude Bemis I have read, and will definitely be reading his other works.
SARAH PAGE is a sophomore in high school and an ardent reader who enjoys all literary genres. She plays cello with the Triangle Youth Symphony in Raleigh, N.C.