Townley's (The Red Thread) overly complicated fantasy stars 13-year-old Hap Barlo, a smart, nimble-fingered cobbler's apprentice who is also an unwilling thief. The slippery story line is founded on a mysterious bejeweled blue shoe in a cobbler's window in the town of Aplanap, but the action soon begins to alternate between Aplanap and a prison in a faraway mine, where the prisoners (in a plot element reminiscent of Holes) daily dig deeper toward some unknown purpose. The enormous cast of characters includes a pompous mayor and his greedy wife, a good-hearted cobbler and his hungry dog, an evil prison warden, a feisty, fearless girl with a crush on Hap, and numerous, hard-to-distinguish Aukis, a blue-skinned, human-hating race with an almost-human language (in which Hap is fluent—a skill that proves crucial). GrandPré's (the Harry Potter series) b&w illustrations create an appropriately furtive ambience and partner well with the tongue-in-cheek narrative voice. The convoluted plot culminates in a predictable frantic battle scene in the mine, but the mystery of the blue shoe and other aspects of the saga are not fully resolved until the story returns to Aplanap. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Shirley Nelson
A mysterious stranger visits the alpine village of Aplanap and commissions Grel, the cobbler, to create an incredible shoe completely encrusted with blue gems. Although the stranger pays in advance, much time passes and the shoe remains locked away. Business is poor and Grel's apprentice Hap convinces Grel to display the shoe in the window to attract customers. Attempts are made to purchase and even steal the shoe, but Grel patiently awaits the return of the mysterious stranger. In his attempt to save a small child from being imprisoned for begging, Hap takes one stone from the shoe to pay her fine. Not only is he sent to the mines as a thief, but the shoe's gems now appear to be no more than common stones. It is no longer a brilliantly shining blue. While slaving in the mines, Hap discovers the corruption of the town's leaders. Earning the trust of both the miners and the blue-skinned Aukis, Hap is instrumental in restoring hope to the people of Aplanap while solving the mystery of the blue shoe. GrandPre's beautiful blue illustrations and the blue type face immerse the reader in the proper blue atmosphere to enjoy this story of an unlikely hero. Reviewer: Shirley Nelson
VOYA - Bonnie Kunzel
The author of The Great Good Thing (Atheneum/S & S, 2001/VOYA April 2001) writes another appealing fantasy for younger teens. Drawing on elements from folklore and fairy tales, it introduces a shoemaker, the clever young boy who becomes his assistant, an evil mayor (and his even more evil, greedy wife), a mysterious traveler, a legendary goddess, a despised race of small troll-like Aukis or Blueskins, and the mysterious object that draws them all togethera jewel-covered blue shoe, commissioned by the traveler, created by the shoemaker, and inadvertently damaged by the boy. The mountain village of Aplanap is the home of The Blue Shoe, a shoemaker's shop, named after the fabulous jewel-encrusted blue shoe in its window. It is also a city known for arresting beggars and sending them to work in the mines on nearby Mount Xexnax, which is what happened to thirteen-year-old Hap's father and what Hap suffers when the shoemaker's apprentice removes one of the jewels from the blue shoe to rescue a beggar girl. The jewel becomes a stone, the shoe loses its magic glow, and Hap is sent to the mines. There he becomes a catalyst in a revolt in which enslaved humans and Aukis work together, for freedom and to save a fabulous blue diamond at the heart of the mountain from desecration. This charming fantasy adventure, with its good-versus-evil plot, involving magic, intrigue, racial prejudice, and a dash of romance, should definitely appeal to younger teen fans of the genreboys as well as girls. Reviewer: Bonnie Kunzel
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—This tale begins with a mysterious blue-jeweled shoe and centers on the adventures of 13-year-old Hap Barlow, who gets imprisoned and is part of a slave revolt, and ends with the mystery of the shoe solved and a lesson on how not to mistreat the Earth. Elflike creatures called Aukis once lived freely on Mount Xexnax, but now it is a prison set up by humans and holds the lawbreakers of Aplanap along with captured Aukis. Hap and some Auki warriors must unite in order for the slave revolt to succeed but cultural twists and turns complicate this mission, including the necessity of working with Ulf, an Auki who is married to a human. GrandPré's occasional, detailed blue illustrations are well placed and assist in keeping readers' attention focused. The Blue Shoe is a delightful fantasy that brings forth the topics of diversity and ecology in a way that does not have a happy ending but one with a solution in progress.—Nancy D. Tolson, Mitchell College, New London, CT
In a story that begins like a fairy tale but ends with explosions, gunfire and villains dissolving into green goo, readers will plumb the depths of both a mighty mountain and the human heart. An affable, audience-addressing narrator recounts how a tall stranger comes to the village of Aplanap and commissions a single, blue gem-encrusted shoe from cobbler Grel. Magic is clearly at play, for when Grel's charming apprentice, 13-year-old Hap Barlo, steals one of the blue stones off the magnificent shoe to help a beggar, the shoe loses its luster. Not only that, the noble thief is exiled to the dreaded mines of Mount Xexnax, home to the enslaved, blue-skinned Aukis who do hard labor for greedy humans who covet the Great Blue, a giant diamond sacred to the Aukis. Fortunately, Hap has the determined, brave, ringleted and smitten Sophia Hartpence in his camp! Themes of racial prejudice, slavery, revolution and environmentalism swirl through this sometimes dark but ultimately cheerful adventure, illustrated by GrandPre in arresting charcoals and printed in blue ink. (Fantasy. 9-12)
Read an Excerpt
Not long ago, in the sunny mountain village of Aplanap, famous for its tilted streets, cuckoo clocks, and Finster cheese, there stood a small shoemaker’s shop. And in the window of that shop was a shoe that fit nobody.
Of course, since it was only one shoe, it was doubly useless.
Yet everyone who learned of this shoe was seized with the desire to own it. Curious travelers with hard money winking in their pockets came from as far away as Doubtful Bay. But the shoe was not for sale.
You’re thinking this must have been a remarkable shoe.
People lined up outside the shop just to look in the window. Even the town’s mayor (whose name is far too long and important to write out here) felt tempted by it. He was an impressive man, but not an easy man to impress. Passing in his carriage, he’d have the coachman slow down so he could catch another glimpse of the famous object, with its sapphires, opals, and moonstones flashing in the sun.
Did I mention the shoe was covered with precious stones?
Precious and semiprecious, and a few (like the beads of Murano glass) merely beautiful. And all of them blue. Blue of every description, from palest aquamarine to clearest azure to dramatic cobalt to assertive navy to deep-thinking indigo.
A blue shoe.
The shoemaker--I should say this right away--was a simple man, nothing remarkable about him at all. Every-one called him Grel, which was his name, or as much of it as anyone bothered to remember.
Grel was neither very short nor very tall. He wasn’t particularly thin, nor exactly fat. Neither ugly nor handsome. He had a beard (now threaded with gray), but most Aplanap men wore beards. He was poor, but not poor enough to be arrested.
Did I mention that the poor were arrested in Aplanap? They were. Well, beggars were arrested. You could be poor all you wanted and you’d be left alone. But if hunger forced you into the streets to beg for a coin, large men would come and cart you to jail, and from there, they’d ship you to the north side of the next mountain, a peak so tall its top was perpetually covered in snow and surrounded by swirling clouds.
There were many superstitions about this mountain. It stood in plain sight, and yet you couldn’t see the top of it. At night, it was even more mysterious, because the peak pulsed with a dull orange glow. No doubt the light came from the campfires of the beggars condemned to live there, but you know how people are. They’ll believe anything. Some said the mountain was really a volcano. Others claimed that trolls hopped about among the crags and spent the nights forging weapons over a great fire. Still others believed the ancient myth about Xexnax, the goddess the mountain was named for. The glow, they said, came from her kitchen, where she roasted the poor doomed souls who’d been sent there.
Whatever the truth, you didn’t want to end up on that mountain.
It was a good thing Grel had Hap Barlo, a young boy he’d taken in as an apprentice. A slim thirteen-year-old with nimble hands and likeable eyes, Hap was smart in ways that Grel was not--quick with numbers, sharp at business. More than once he’d saved his absentminded master from ruin.
They were never far from ruin as it was. Cobblers were always needed but badly paid. Grel and the boy often lived on crusts, although they could usually indulge in a slice of schnitzel on Sundays, sitting at a little table in front of the shop, with Grel’s dog at their feet. The dog’s name was Rauf, since that was the only word the creature knew. Rauf sometimes spoke his word to the passing cats, but he lacked conviction, and the cats paid no attention.
On summer evenings, Rauf would lie contentedly in the dust, one eye closed, the other watching his master and a few old friends playing a game of Plog after the day’s work was done. There was something reassuring in the clack of wooden pieces on the game board and the smell of pipe smoke spiraling over Grel’s head.
As far as the rest of Aplanap was concerned, Grel might have been invisible. Even regular customers would have a hard time placing him had they seen him outside his shop, without his work apron, walking the tilted streets. Grel didn’t mind. He had no desire for recognition. He cared about his sleepy dog, his alert young apprentice, and his art. For he was an artist among cobblers. He might seem vague as he pottered about his shop or rummaged around looking for his glasses, but when it came to work, his concentration was unmatched. The idea of tearing the stones off the fabulous shoe and selling them would never occur to him, any more than he’d tear out his own eyes, especially since, long ago, with excruciating care, he had placed the jewels there himself.
Grel often thought back to that rainy evening when a weirdly tall stranger, his face shadowed in a cowl, had slipped into the shop at closing time. What struck the shoemaker at once were the man’s eyes, which glittered with a cold blue fire. Wherever they alighted, they lowered the temperature by ten degrees.
“What can I do for you, sir?” Grel said.
“Ye make shoes, don’t ye?”
Grel did not understand at first. The man had a strange accent, a nasal tone, and a voice that started with a grumble in his throat.
“Shoes, you say?”
“Shoes! Shoes! Ye are deafen?”
“Shoes! Yes, the finest.”
“Then make me one!”
“Make you?.?.?.?one shoe?”
The stranger ignored him. He pulled out a sketch and laid it on the workbench, smoothing its creases with his skinny hand.
One shoe. That’s what he wanted. And he paid in advance. Grel watched the heavy coins clink on the wood.
“But that’s too much!” he faintly protested.
The man’s eyes held him. “Ye complain I pay too much?”
“But it’s only one shoe. I should charge you half as much, not?.?.?.”
I mentioned, didn’t I, that Grel was not a sharp businessman?
More coins clinked on the wood.
“Thinken me,” said the stranger in a dark voice, “ye’ll earn every groat.”
Grel shook his head. It was ten times what he generally received for his work. And only one shoe! What could be simpler?
From the Hardcover edition.