Middle School Monday – The Trilogy of Two by Juman Malouf
In this richly imagined debut novel, twin foundlings Sonja and Charlotte, raised in a traveling circus by Tatty the tattooed lady, have been able to play music since before they learned to walk. When we meet them, they are having trouble controlling the magical side effects of their musical genius. While playing they have caused storms under the circus tent and audience chairs to levitate. This understandably terrifies the audience and brings the Enforcers to the circus.
You see, in this world there are cities and outskirts (essentially garbage dumps) where people live, and the circus exists in the outskirts and must try to fly under the radar of the Enforcers. The circus can’t risk another episode of the twins’ music calling the attention of the Enforcers, so the girls are banned from playing. Heartbroken, Charlotte decides to audition for a special school in one of the cities for students with musical talent. Sonja joins her at the last minute. What the girls don’t know is that the school and its auditions are a front for Kats von Stralen, who has discovered how to harvest talents from children under thirteen and then separate the magic from the talents to use for his nefarious purposes. Kats and his mother, the Contessa, seek to take over and unite all of the cities – but more than that, they seek to invade the Seven Edens.
Tatty has raised the twins on stories about her beautiful tattoos of the Seven Edens. When the tattoos turn out to be more than just stories, the girls go on an adventure to save both their world and the Seven Edens from Kats and the Contessa. Along the way, they meet a myriad of fantastical beings and manage to regain their stolen talents.
One of my favorite aspects of this novel is it’s focus on failure and forgiveness. Each character has, in some way, failed the ones they love and is in search of redemption. We see the internal struggles of the characters as they both seek and grant forgiveness, for minor slights as well as true betrayals. This is not a novel that deals with these themes lightly, and some characters pay for their mistakes with their lives.
This is an amazing debut – it reads as a novel of a long experienced and fully developed talent. The worlds detailed within, as well as the characters who populate them, are vibrant and leap to life from the page. I can’t wait for more from Malouf.
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About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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