Whisker and the Pie Rat crew are back in the third installment of this delightful middle grade series, Pie Rats. Whisker’s family is still missing, and he finds himself taking on twin quests. First, to use the Forgotten Map and the King’s Key to find “a treasure with the power to alter one’s very destiny.” And second, to use the treasure to recover his family, who may or may not have perished at the beginning of the first book.
His friends and protectors, the Pie Rats, only know about the first part. The book provides generous amounts of the whimsy and inventiveness that are a hallmark of the series, while at the same time growing just a shade more serious with the addition of a series of moral conundrums the crew must address. It is a welcome shift that in no way detracts from the engaging quality of the narrative.
Early in THE ISLAND OF DESTINY, Whisker and the Captain are marooned on the Island of Destiny, where they encounter owls, scorpions, and a mysterious Hermit whose past may have much to do with a tragic chapter of the Captain’s family history. Soon enough their old enemies the Cat Fish have reappeared, and the good ship Apple Pie is MIA—along with its crew. The resilient rodents find themselves in a life-or-death situation that would be enough to make a less stalwart bunch abandon its quest. But that just wouldn’t be the Pie Rat way.
Compared to the first two books in the series, THE ISLAND OF DESTINY has more: more character development as Whisker matures into a leader; more tension as the stakes get higher with the return of the Cat Fish; and more emotional authenticity as Whisker grapples with his impotence and desperation to save his family even as he risks all to save others. Furthermore, the loyalty of the Pie Rat crew is contrasted with the presence of a traitor or two in their midst. Long-ago betrayals surface, trailing consequences as a comet trails fire, and characters struggle with questions of redemption and second chances, of making choices that matter. The fact that Stelzer manages to do all this and more without sounding preachy and moralistic is a testament to the author’s skill.
Book 3 continues this hidden gem of a series that deserves to emerge into the light of day. Readers and their children will be glad they hopped aboard the Apple Pie with Whisker and the Pie Rat crew.