The Palace of Laughter
by Jon Berkeley
Book One of The Wednesday Tales
comes to you with the endorsement of no less than Julie Andrews
Edwards, who wrote Mandy
and starred in Mary Poppins
but did not write this book. Instead, it was
written by a Dublin-born book illustrator who thought up much of the story while walking his dog. I
assume this means he thought it up during a series of walks, rather than one long ramble, though the
plot does involve a foot journey of several days accompanied by a large, furry friend.
Miles Wednesday is a smelly orphan who sleeps in a large wine barrel with his only companion, a toy
bear named Tangerine. After escaping many times from the cruel orphanage run by Mr. and Mrs.
Pinchbucket, Miles has finally made his escape "stick," but he still lives a perilous existence,
earning just enough money at odd jobs to eat every day or two. The peril becomes even greater the
night a circus comes to town, and Miles finds himself face to face with a talking Bengal tiger. The
boy's attempt to sneak into the circus has even more perilous consequences. Before the dust has
settled, Miles has helped a delicate little girl with wings escape her cage, the pair are on the run
from a bloodthirsty monster called the Null, and Tangerine is in the hands of the enemy.
This last matter is more than Miles can bear. Tangerine is the only thing he has left of his
parents, who left him at the orphanage when he was a tiny baby. So Miles and the little winged girl,
named Little, pursue the villainous circus people through a country fraught with risk and adventure.
A dangerous carnivore becomes their traveling companion. A fierce blind man mistakes Miles for a
thieving scoundrel. The two children blunder into the middle of a gang war in a nightmarish city
where the atmosphere of dread thickens until they stand before the Palace of Laughter - a place
where people go in free and come out enslaved, a place where a thunder-and-lightning angel and an
orange bear languish in captivity, a place where the Null dwells like the embodiment of everyone's
Obviously, considering Miles's history of eluding the Pinchbuckets, he is good at escaping. The
challenge this time is to go into such a place and set things right. In the process, Miles learns a
good deal about his own history, and about how it feels to have a place to belong.
This is a very warm-hearted story that sparkles with wit, mesmerizing images, and memorable
characters. Even the predictable word-pattern that opens each chapter (such as "Miles Wednesday,
stone-warmed and Tangerine-less..." and "Baumella the giantess, straight-boned and tree-tall...")
grows into something comforting and amusing that you anticipate with pleasure, combining the
expected and the unexpected. And though this book is very satisfying by itself, once you have read
it you can't help feeling interested in the second book, The Tiger's Egg.
Recommended Age: 11+
If you would like to contact Robbie, you may do so here.