Rownie is the youngest “sibling” in “grandmother” witch Graba’s group of Grubs. Abandoned after his older brother, Rowan, disappeared, he was taken in by Graba, and now occupies a small spot in her Fagan-like world. Zombay, a teeming, crushing town, is not a happy place: it’s complex and dark, and not a little menacing.
In this place, inhabited by the goblins — those who have been “changed” — theater has been banned for everyone except the changed. So, it’s not a little surprising that one day, when Rownie happens upon a theater troupe, he joins them. It just so happens that his brother was part of this troupe, and that they believe that he is still alive, which gives Rownie hope. They set off in search of Rowan, knowing that if they don’t succeed in finding him, then the whole city will be doomed.
The mix of steampunk, theater, and High Fantasy gives this National Book Award winner its unique flavor. There are clockwork magicians and mechanical chicken legs residing closely with witches’ curses and prophecies. The theater feel flows through the book, dividing the chapters into acts and scenes, drawing the reader into this unique world.