(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
In the fourth book in the Princelings of the East series, Lord Mariusz of Hattan narrates, in his own Chandler-esque style, how he came to explore the world on the end of the time tunnel, and why he adopted the pseudonym Hugo in the first place.
In the Princelings world of 2001 we meet old friends as their much younger selves. You think Victor is cute? You should see him eight years younger – “a bundle of flying legs and hair”! Prince Lupin is much as he ever is, but Baden has yet to escape the succession wars at Castle Powell. Saku is, of course, well established as Lord Mariusz’s ingenious professor at Castle Hattan, but we find he knows more about the workings of time than we imagined. The Honourable Smallweed is only getting started on the trail of deceit and meanness that will characterise all his future dealings. And we journey to new places, Sowerby, Powell, and a strange city full of females, hidden in a forest. We also discover that stories of ghouls, ghosts, vampires and werewolves are not just tales to frighten children after all.
The Traveler in Black and White is suitable for tweens and teens up to the age of one hundred or so.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
I think I was understandably a little skeptical when I first accepted this book as part of my submissions. A book about talking guinea pigs? It didn’t sound like something aimed at tweens and teens as well as people of all ages, but I resolved to keep an open mind and give it a go. Of course by the end I was so glad that I went into it with an open mind.
The Traveler in Black and White is the fourth book in the Princelings of the East series but it can be read as a sort of prequel, which is how I read it seeing as I never read the first three books. And when the blurb says it’s written in a Chandler-esque style, it’s not kidding. Hugo, our narrator’s travelling pseudonym, really does speak like he’s a private eye in a noire novel. In the hands of some authors this would be annoying but Jemima Pett does it quite well, making the dark undertones a part of the story so that narrating it this way makes complete sense. It also adds a little humour to the situation at times, something that’s always needed in fiction.
Hugo is a pretty awesome character. He’s quick-thinking and smooth-talking but unlike characters with similar traits, he’s not immune to failure. His business venture down the tunnel doesn’t always go as planned and he experiences more than his fair share of setbacks. At the same time, he never gives up and so continues trying to muscle in on the Honourable Smallweed’s traditional territory. As someone coming into the series midway I know I didn’t fully appreciate all of the characters’ backstories but even if you’re like me and haven’t read the other books you really do get attached to the characters fairly quickly. Especially Hugo, even if he is a philandering sort of character who can be a little ruthless in his business practices—not violently so but more so in shady business practices. He’s sort of an anti-hero but you just can’t help it; you’ll love him by the end of the book. He’s a true three dimensional character, something I didn’t expect from a novel about talking guinea pigs.
The plot blew my mind. I don’t say that very often but it is very true in this case. Jemima Pett has constructed such a fascinating and intricate plot that I know I’ll have to read the book at least three more times to get all of its subtleties. Unfortunately I can’t really tell you much about the plot because it reveals some pretty big spoilers but needless to say, the tunnel isn’t all that it appears and neither are the people who live within it. Even Hugo is hiding some pretty big secrets of his own. I’ll say this about the plot, however: whenever you think you have things figured out, a wrench is thrown into the works just to keep you guessing. Vampires, ghosts, palace intrigue, love, betrayal…The Traveler in Black and White does have some pretty heavy themes but Jemima Pett manages to pull things off without making the story too terribly dark.
As I said, this is a book I’ll have to read at least three times to get all of its subtleties and part of that is because of the plot but the other part is because of the world-building. It’s quite well done and what surprised me the most is how much it’s like a human world and yet not like a human world. What I mean by that is that of course where you have palaces you have intrigue and royal assassinations yet at the same time there are some things you would expect in a guinea pig society like huge families. This quirky blend really works well for the novel and makes you feel all the more invested in the plot as well as the characters. I suspect that to fully appreciate the world-building here I’ll have to read the first three novels, but that’s hardly a chore.
Overall, you could say that The Traveler in Black and White was a huge surprise for me. I didn’t honestly expect it to be a Chandler-esque novel with complex characters, a mind-blowing plot and a fascinating society. But it was! Hugo is and will likely always remain one of my favourite non-human characters of all time. I’d say that pretty much sums up how much I enjoyed this book.
I give this book 5/5 stars.