The travelling restaurant is a rotund ship which plies between the ports of Fontania, a fantasy realm in which the benign magic which sustained its people has been banished by the usurping Lady Gall. Jasper, our 12-year-old hero, is on the run with his family from this botox-bolstered tyrant after she has attempted to poison Sybilla, his beloved little sister. When the siblings are separated, the crew of the travelling restaurant reluctantly grant him refuge. In the course of their combined flight from Gall and pursuit of Sybilla, Jasper begins to unwind the complex toils which bind together the murder attempt on Sybilla, the mission of the restaurant, and his family’s role in the suppression of Fontania’s magic.
This is a complicated story, with a cast of intriguingly multi-faceted characters, none of whom are what they first seem. Else ensures that all of them, with the exception of the pantomimically evil Gall, are believable human mixtures, and the lightly comical mood of the fantasy is deepened by the touching intensity of Jasper’s protective love for his sister.
Though the plot unfolded far too slowly and whimsically for this particular reader, the eventual climax is entertainingly garish. More patient readers will be rewarded with the combination of a new world populated by strange but oddly recognizable people.