This is an exciting fairytale twist of a story based on the legend of the Pied Piper. It has all the earmarks of a traditional tale, and you can see the echoes of not just the Pied Piper, but also other classic fairytales too like Hansel and Gretel.
While sometimes in a trilogy one of the books is less interesting than the others, the author did a good job of making each book an adventure of its own while also fitting into the bigger story.
This trilogy lands squarely in the middle-grade reading group, although I would suggest maybe the older end of the spectrum. I will go into it more detail below, but there are some elements of this trilogy that younger middle-grade readers might find too scary. Each child is different though.
This series is doesn’t just give us a twist on the Pied Piper, but it also contains nods to familiar fairy tale characters, including truly scary witches, giant rats, trolls and magicians.
The first book, The Peddler’s Road, introduces the reader to Max and her little brother Carter who are staying in Hamelin with their father. They think the worst of their problems will be boredom, but that’s before the Pied Piper lures them away to the magical island of Summer Isle.
There they find the original children from Hamelin who were lured away by the Piper back in the thirteenth century, and they haven’t aged a day since stepping foot on the magical island.
While it is summer all the time, dark things lurk on the Summer Isle, and the children of Hamlin have formed their own village to guard themselves against the frightening creatures that roam the island when darkness falls.
The first book sends Max and Carter on a quest to try to return the lost children of Hamlin and get home themselves. Things don’t go quite as planned though.
In the second book, The Magician’s Key, Max and Carter find themselves separated, and Max has to find the only key to the Summer Isle. Unfortunately, the key is held by the soul stealer, Vodnik, who has no intention of handing it over.
Meanwhile, Carter has his own troubles. He gets separated from his friends and finds himself in the company of the Piper himself.
The trilogy concludes in The Piper’s Apprentice. Having found the lost key and returned to the Summer Isle, Max is determined to reunite with her brother, restore her parents’ lost souls, and escape from the magical island once and for all.
Meanwhile, Carter, still in the company of the Piper, and the evil Grannie Yaga doesn’t want to let Max or Carter leave without a big fight.
The Good Stuff
- The siblings are very loyal to each other, even though they have a very real relationship and fight sometimes.
- The children of Hamlin show courage and selflessness as they work together to stay safe from all the things that roam the Summer Isle.
- Friendship and family are key components of this story.
- Max shows courage and determination in getting back to and saving Carter.
- Carter shows bravery, as well, just in a different way.
- Carter has a disability and has to wear a leg brace all the time. Instead of stereotyping someone with a disability, this book shows him as a real kid with real strengths and weaknesses.
- Although the Piper is a dark character, in the end, he tries to redeem himself from the bad choices he has made.
*** spoiler alert***
The Stuff to Be Aware Of
- There is a mild romance between one of the Hamlin boys and Max, but it is very innocent.
- There is a lot of fighting between the good guys and the bad guys in these books with the violence that accompanies it. It isn’t terribly gruesome, but there is quite ab it of suspense
- These books do not shy away from dark themes such as death. While some of the characters thought dead, end up being prisoners for the rats, one of the characters is killed by a spell from Grannie Yaga.
- Speaking of Grannie Yaga, she is quite terrifying. This is the witch of old fairytales who doesn’t go looking for a bag of chips when she’s feeling hungry. Instead, she takes out her old wooden teeth and puts in her metal ones to chow down on children. Nobody gets eaten, but there are several close calls.
- Grannie Yaga isn’t the only scary character either. Between the giant rats and the ghostly grey men, you might want to give this series a pass if your child/student is prone to bad dreams.
- If you feel uncomfortable with magic, there is a boatload in these books – used for both good and bad.
Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy. It was an interesting take on the tale of the Pied Piper, and I found myself really rooting for the main characters.
If you like fantasy and fairytale adaptations, these are definitely worth the read!