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The Palace of Laughter: The Wednesday Tales No. 1    by Jon Berkeley order for
Palace of Laughter
by Jon Berkeley
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

An ingenious young orphan, a (dangerous but ultimately helpful) talking tiger, a Song Angel who's fallen down from the sky, a missing Storm Angel, evil villains, a vile monster, a wild imagination, and a big dollop of magic and mystery - The Palace of Laughter has it all.

It opens when eleven-year-old Miles Wednesday - living in a barrel outside the town of Larde, with his stuffed bear Tangerine, after he ran away from the abusive orphanage where he was raised - spies the Circus Oscuro's arrival in town and meets a fully grown, talkative Bengal tiger, who calls him 'tub boy' and tells Miles he can smell the circus in him, before moving on. This impels Miles to sneak into the circus, where he rescues one of the performers - a small, winged acrobat who calls herself Little and has been imprisoned by the Great Cortado (the villain who owns the circus) and his huge henchman Genghis since she followed Storm Angel Silverpoint down from their life in the clouds. The bad guys are using Little to ensure that Silverpoint performs in their terrible Palace of Laughter.

Miles and Little escape the circus, with the monstrous Null on their trail. Helped by Miles' friend, the dragon-gowned Lady Partridge (who tells bad puns, and lives in a treehouse crammed full of books and over twenty cats), they set off on the tiger's back in search of the Palace of Laughter and the missing Storm Angel, their friendship deepening along the way. Little brings Tangerine to life, but he's captured by Genghis. After assorted adventures, Miles and Little reach the city of Smelt and make their way - through warring gangs of boys and a game of Pigball - to the famed Palace of Laughter (which they enter through a huge ear). There, they find Silverpoint and Tangerine, encounter many dangers, and foil the Great Cortado's pernicious plan to steal laughter from the world.

Each chapter begins with a summary - such as 'Miles Wednesday, underfed, underground and undeterred ...' - of a character's current state. Through their adventures, Miles learns a little of his own history, and Little makes a great sacrifice for friendship. The Palace of Laughter is a wonderful, magical story, destined to become a classic. It's just right for the middle school crowd. Even better, there's more to come in this enchanting series.

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