A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Author Stuart Gibbs, recognizing that this is a silly tale, packs it with vocabulary-building words dubbed IQ Boosters, such as "laborious," "foreboding," "nefarious," and even "ericaceous" (relating to the hedgehog, which he goes on to explain). Like most of the book, this is probably above the reading level of most 7-year-olds, but lots of fun as read-aloud and rewarding on later visits. Lots of wordplay, like the knights having such names as Sir Vyval, Sir Render, and Sir Cuss. The game of Paper, Rock, Scissors plays an important role. Occasional subtle references to the original tale of Theseus and the Minotaur in Greek mythology.
Strong messages of courage, teamwork, friendship, creative problem-solving -- and being willing to admit it and make amends when you mess up.
Positive Role Models
Friends and fellow adventurers Tim, Belinda, Ferkle, and Rover the frog-dog face plenty of challenges with courage, loyalty, determination, teamwork, and moments of individual brilliance. Princess Grace is kind, wise, and once again in need of rescuing by her loyal subjects. Villains Prince Ruprecht and his wizard Nerlim are evil and villainous, but fortunately quite inept.
Stereotype-busting is big in the Once Upon a Tim series, where the protagonists have escaped their extremely limited peasant origins to become knights in training. Belinda, Tim's best friend, appears to be Black and seems to have decided early on not to settle for the life she's expected to follow, and is now the most skilled of the knights in training. Of course she has to pretend to be a boy, but still. Meanwhile, their pal Ferkle continues to follow the profession of Village Idiot, as it's been the family business for generations -- but once again proves to be brilliant. The friends are astonished when the monstrous Minotaur who inhabits the labyrinth proves to be not a cruel beast with the body of a man and the head of a bull, but a charming fellow named Chad, with the head of a man and the body of a bull, and a whole family of half-human, half-some-animal relatives, adopted and otherwise.
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Violence & Scariness
Lots of swordplay, bashing with clubs, and fighting with weapons, all of it lively and cartoonish. A knight has lost a lot of body parts over the years and sports a tin nose, among other things. Magic gone awry is common, as a witch's spell has turned Tim's faithful dog into a frog. Perils include poisoned apples, a squad of enchanted harps, and some seriously mean squirrels. Both heroes and villains in turn find themselves trapped in the Labyrinth of Doom, which has quite a long list of perils from monsters to pits, Cave Shark to Giant Scissors of Doom. "Disembowel" is one of the vocabulary-boosting words, "and the fact that we even have a word for it tells you that it was a disturbingly common occurrence back in my day."
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Occasional references to screwing up. And dragon poop.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Labyrinth of Doom is Stuart Gibbs' sequel to Once Upon a Tim, in which heroes Tim, Belinda, Ferkle, and Rover the frog-dog must once again rescue Princess Grace from the wicked doings of Prince Ruprecht and his wizard Nerlim. Along the way there's a lot of fighting with weapons (some of it training in knight school), including swords, clubs, and whatever furniture comes to hand, against such foes as evil harps, rubble monsters, cave lizards, snakes, and squirrels. There's also a lot of stereotype-busting, as both Tim and Belinda have escaped the peasant life to become knights, where Belinda (who's Black and has to pretend to be a boy) proves to be more skilled than some of the teachers, and Ferkle, the "village idiot" (it's the family business) proves once again to be a genius. One cartoonish scene depicts all the knights armor-shopping, standing around for the most part in scratchy long underwear but possibly in a couple cases hairy bare bottoms, it's hard to tell. Definitely comic and part of the silliness, having to do with the trouble being caused by the knights having been caught with their pants down. There's lots of wordplay, lots of vocabulary, lots of ridiculous adventures, lively illustrations on nearly every page, and a relatably struggling-but-hilarious narrator make this lots of fun for readers and also for the read-aloud set. More adventures loom in the next installment.
Is It Any Good?
Slapstick, swordplay, stereotype-busting, and lots of vocabulary-boosting words as Stuart Gibbs' fast-paced follow-up finds young knights in still more peril from inept but persistent villains. Rescuing Princess Grace from The Labyrinth of Doom pits young Tim and Belinda (alias Bull, because she has to pretend to be a boy) against cave snakes, hypnotic harps, bad-tempered squirrels, and a minotaur who turns out to be a bit of a surprise. Stacy Curtis' lively illustrations bring it all to life and move things along so there's never a dull moment, as a new foe is always around the next corner. But Belinda in particular is not one to be intimidated, as here, where our heroes have just been captured by Book 1's villains:
"'Ruprecht!' Belinda snarled. 'And Smerkin! I should have known you were behind this.'
"'Um,' Nerlim said, looking like his feelings had been hurt. 'My name's Nerlim. Not Smerkin.'
"'Whatever,' Belinda said. 'I forgot.'
"'You forgot?' Nerlim said with a gasp. 'We went on a whole crusade together! And then I double-crossed you and revealed I had been deviously plotting against you the entire time! I tried to kill you! And you can't even remember my name?'
"'Apparently not,' Belinda said. 'Besides, you look like a Smerkin."
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