Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Nightshade City

Nightshade City

Hilary Wagner
Illustrator:  Omar Rayyan 
Fiction  Series
For ages 10 and up
Holiday House, 2011   ISBN: 978-0823423873

Many years ago some highly intelligent rats left Topside, the world of humans, and burrowed deep under the human settlement to create a city of their own. It came to be called the Catacombs and it was a peaceful, happy place where rats were governed fairly by a rat called Trilok and his advisors.  

   Then eleven years ago a group of rats, who had been exiled from Catacombs because of their criminal acts, attacked the rat city in what came to be known as the Bloody Coup. The criminals were led by a murdering rat called Killdeer, whose second in command, Billycan, was a former lab rat. Together Killdeer and Billycan set about turning the Catacombs into a place full of fear and misery. The old leaders and their families were all killed, or at least that is what everyone thought. Their orphaned sons were forced to join the Kill Army and their daughters became domestic workers who often died of starvation.

   Young Victor and Vincent Nightshade, the sons of one of the former leaders of the Catacombs, have been living quietly with a guardian ever since the Bloody Coup, keeping their true identities a secret. When their guardian dies, Victor and Vincent know that there are going to have to run away. They cannot bear to serve in the Kill Army, which will surely be their fate since they have no adults in their lives.

   They make it to the surface, enter a human house, find a rat hole, and then follow the passageway beyond until they come to an underground space, which is where they meet Juniper Belancort, a rat everyone thought had died after a fight with Billycan during the Bloody Coup. Juniper and a few of his allies have been working hard to build a new rat city some distance from the Catacombs, and they have already brought some of the rats from the Catacombs to their city in secret. Juniper is delighted to meet the sons of his old comrade, Julius Nightshade, and in the end the rats name the new rat settlement Nightshade City, in Julius’ honor.

   Juniper has one relative left, his niece Clover, and when he hears that she has been chosen to be Killdeer’s new mate, he immediately puts a rescue mission together. He has to get her out of the Catacombs before Killdeer can present her at a big meeting. By working with their allies, a tribe of worms, and with the help of one of the rats in Catacombs, Juniper and his supporters are able to rescue Clover just in time.

   Killdeer is furious when he hears that his Chosen One has vanished, but he does not think her disappearance is a threat. Billycan, on the other hand, is very suspicious. He knows that something is going on, but he does not know what it is. When he finds out that rats are missing from the Catacombs and that no one knows where they have got to, he decides that something has to be done.

   This gripping story will delight readers who like stories that are animal-centric. Like the Redwall stories, this tale is full of adventures and colorful characters. Surprising alliances develop between different species, and these add an interesting dimension to the narrative.