The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley

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The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An orphan boy and his angelic friend enter a great circus-themed quest, featuring all manner of inventive companions and plot twists. A great adventure, excellently told.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
ISBN: 978-1416910725

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Miles Wednesday, the escaped orphan, lives in a barrel on a hill overlook the town of Larde. But that's OK, it's a large barrel, perched on its side. One night, completely unannounced, the Circus Oscuro comes to town and sets up below Miles's hill. Also making a visit is a huge tiger, who meets with Miles at the barrel and tells him (yes, I know, tells him) that he can smell a link with the circus on Miles.

Smuggling himself into the space beneath the big top seats, Miles sees a young, angelic girl, called Little, making a tumble during a balancing act. Miles can have no idea that soon he is to have to rescue Little from the Circus, and lead her on a mission to the Palace of Laughter, one that starts out as an errand to reunite Little with her friend, but soon escalates into a quest to rescue much more than one person.

Of course, talking tigers might make you think of Aslan, but you couldn't be further from the truth. This nameless tiger is certainly less holy, and unpredictable, just like so much else in this world. And a fantasy set in the world of the circus might make you think of scary clown stereotypes, and again this book goes way beyond that. In fact it went so much further than any expectation I ever had that I have no hesitation in recommending it as strongly as I can.

Time and again the narrative surprised me, but I can imagine that only happened because I had a reviewer's head on and was trying harder than normal to predict things. I failed many times. Yes, the story arc of one of the major characters is telegraphed, but the younger reader will not mind at all. And anyone reading purely for pleasure can only get a whole heap of that as the story takes Miles and Little into simply unguessable realms.

The telling is just a delight, from the ever-so appropriate town and personal names, to the double-barrelled adjectives that are appended to Miles's name at the start of almost every chapter. It does not concentrate on cliff-hangers as such, but the urge to read and read until the perfectly balanced ending is ever-present.

I think I might as well stop here, because I doubt I can say enough to put across how much I enjoyed this novel. There is so little to find fault with (a dodgy bit of pendulum physics, and a minor character being post-climactically remembered a hundred pages after last being mentioned), that this can only get five stars.

The Palace of Laughter, perfectly-produced, well-proof-read (for a change), is bound to be a hit. I can only imagine it being put very quickly onto many young readers' shelves marked 'favourites'.

If it needed saying, I am very grateful for the publishers for sending this to the Bookbag!

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Buy The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley at


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