Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain (2018)
New York, NY: HarperCollins
This adventurous, cynical, darkly funny novel for ages 8-12 is full of monsters, classic high-fantasy royal power struggles, and epic battles—but its central focus is on the productive friendship between two capable girls.
Thisby Thestoop, twelve-year-old janitor in the Black Mountain underground monster dungeon, was abandoned on the stoop of the cavernous prison when she was a baby. Since then, she’s grown into a tough, no-nonsense moderator and maintenance expert who keeps the terrifying occupants of the Black Mountain alive while ensuring that everything stays in its proper place. Her world is turned upside down when the Crown Princess Iphigenia and her brother show up to conduct an inspection of the Mountain. When an overzealous tour guide uncharacteristically loses control of a monster and the Prince goes missing, Thisby finds herself responsible for saving Iphigenia and locating the lost royal before the kingdom falls into chaos.
Snappy dialogue, ironic remarks about magic users, a breakneck pace and a snarky talking slime evoke earlier works like Diana Wynne Jones, while the quirky cast of characters with a range of bad intentions will remind older readers of The Princess Bride. The gruesome details of monster dietary practices, excess of slimes and other noxious foul things, and arm-slicingly vivid action scenes will enchant all young adventure lovers. Meanwhile, the central character’s consistent practical, curious nature, note-taking tomboy affect and infinite backpack pockets will appeal to readers who related hard to Harriet The Spy. Zac Gorman and Sam Bosma, both with a background in writing comics and children’s cartoons, have an instinct for pacing, vivid imagery, and clever, counterintuitive worldbuilding that holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end.