The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone (Kingdoms and Empires #1)
By Jaclyn Moriarty. Arthur A. Levine, 2018.
Hardcover w/ small illustrations, 384 pages. Fantasy/Adventure: Ages 8-12.
When 10 year old Bronte Mettlestone’s parents are “taken out” by pirates, she reminds the reader that she hardly knew them; that she was raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. What seems to truly unsettle Bronte is that with the announcement of her parent’s murder comes their Faery cross-stitched Will. Bronte must follow its instructions or her hometown Gainsleigh will be torn asunder—and this is where it is confirmed that there is magic in Bronte’s world—and a lot of aunts.
Bronte must visit her 10 aunts in their various locations around the Kingdoms and Empires, delivering gifts their brother Patrick and his wife Lida left to them. Her parents dictate how she is to travel, how long she is to stay, and both require and recommend certain activities along the way. She’ll meet family she’d only heard about, and enjoy some relatives more than others. She’ll begin to learn more about and better understand her adventure-loving parent’s along the way. She’ll also learn more about herself. As is often the case in adventures like Bronte’s, what may appear to be extremely inconvenient at first will become extremely convenient later.
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is set down by Bronte two years after the adventure takes place. And while she does hint at future events within the recounting, the reader is led to each revelation as Bronte experiences it or is ready to confront it with the reader. I enjoyed both the episodic structure to the book and the unfolding. I kept imagining how this could be enjoyed aloud (see below for a recommended schedule for dividing up the reading). The narrator finesses the segues and while you are asked to be compelled by the threat that if Bronte does not follow the instructions to the letter Gainsleigh pays, the stakes shift as you begin to suspect another sinister plot is a work.
It’s a pleasure watching all the pieces fit into place. Despite the size of Bronte’s family and each addition of friendship, and despite the breadth of her travels and the tasks involved, no detail is superfluous as Moriarty weaves an astonishingly snug narrative. She rewards the reader for paying attention, and because the clues seem obvious and Bronte so quick to reflect on them, you may assume there’ll be little room for surprises.
Speaking of the size of Bronte’s family and their world: if you are a character-driven reader who also expects each character to be fully realized or multi-dimensional, you’ll just be disappointed. Some of the aunts will be unavailable because they are unavailable to Bronte, in the normal, un-fantasy way some adults are to children—they’re busy with work, disinterested, or are depressed. The adventures are not only inconvenient to Bronte, but many of the other characters in the novel—which is pretty amusing.
My only concern with the novel is one I tend to have with any book that employs such clever and charming narrators—it’s the risk of becoming cloying or just flat out annoying. I was taken with the whimsy, and the surprisingly sharp edge to the wit so I warmed to Bronte and the rhythm of her adventure fairly quickly.
Referring to the tin of cloudberry tea, Bronte’s parents left in the pram with the note:
“It is touches like that,” [Aunt Isabelle] often told me, “the little thoughtful touches. Those are what distinguish the gracious from the rest.”
She used to tell me I should aim to be just as gracious as my parents. So, for a while, I carried about a little notebook and took down the favorite hot and cold beverages, fruits, sweets, and ice-cream flavors of everybody I encountered. That way, when I myself grew up and abandoned my only child in the lobby of somebody’s building, I would be sure to add a sample of their preferred treat to the pram.
An exchange with a cousin:
Another question they liked to ask was why my parents added Faery cross-stitch to their will? Again, I had no clue.
“Maybe it’s because they had no experience of being parents?” Imogen suggested. “So they didn’t realize you can just tell the child what to do, and the child has to do it. They thought you had to do magic.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Maybe.”
Of course, by this point in the adventure, magic (not unlike a Whisper) was the only way to compel a strong-willed Bronte. Later, you’ll reassess, as Bronte does, what actually compels her. That is about the time when that second plot emerges from the periphery.
Bronte is inquisitive, resourceful, thoughtful, and strong-willed—and inconvenienced (read exasperated and angry). She also grows into an appreciation for what such an inconvenient situation has to offer: new friends, family, new skills—and important revelations.
If you take your adventures with a heavy dose of the whimsical and enjoy heroines who wear their sass and vulnerability beneath a veneer of polite society, The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is a your cup of tea.
Recommended for readers who enjoy the conversational narrator, variety in their adventures, whimsy, magic and mysteries. A good read aloud. This adventure is also fantastically fem-friendly, besides female ship captains, a woman who saves the kingdom with her powerful spellbinding, and a few I can’t talk about, Aunt Alys’ story behind how she became queen and the story of her son is especially appealing.
Other books that came to mind while reading The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures…and it’s episodic style: Tolkien’s The Hobbit; Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making; and other classics like Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or Baum’s Wizard of Oz.
Recommended schedule for dividing up the reading: Chapters vary in length (e.g. one chapter is a half-page). You could probably combine nights 1 & 2 and enjoy a one week read aloud.
- Aunt Isabelle (Ch 1-12)
- Aunt Sue (Ch 6-13)
- Aunt Emma (Ch 14-29)
- Aunt Claire (Ch 30) Aunt Sophy (Ch 31) and Aunt Nancy (Ch 32-44)
- Aunt Maya and Aunt Lisbeth (Ch 45-58)
- Aunt Alys (Ch 59-63) and Aunt Carrie (64-73)
- Aunt Franny (74-81)
- Chapters 82-109