A nameless boy is left at the Dreams and Hopes Orphanage (and don't think I didn't have to concentrate really hard not to flip those two every time I read/wrote the name) and is named Timothy Other -- which is not the most interesting name in the book, trust me -- where he spends the first twelve years of his life happy, healthy (insanely so) and cared for. Until the man who ran the orphanage dies and the bank takes ownership of the mortgaged-to-the-hilt facility. The people that take it over might as well have been Miss Hannigan and Dolores Umbridge.
Not surprisingly, Timothy wants something else in his life, runs away -- and straight out of Candide ends up at Marzipan Mountain (his name for it); befriending a giant mouse, caterpillar and Sasquatch-like creature; and on the trail of his birth parents (something he learns much later); and a way to rescue the orphanage. Meanwhile, back home we learn about the nefarious schemes that are behind the takeover of the orphanage and the various motivations behind them.
Some of the subject matter and way it's depicted seem a little more "adult," dark or whatever than is acceptable for kids' literature. On the whole (there might be a line or two I wouldn't defend), this is silly and doesn't give kids enough credit. It also ignores the history of these kind of books -- from Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie to Rowling and Gaiman -- kids can handle this stuff if presented right. Frequently better than adults can.
Eventually, Timothy and one of his new friends come back home to save the day, right wrongs, and give many the happy ending you expect given the genre and setup. There's a bit of redemption, a bit of justice, and a lot of hope and love at work here -- Dreams and Hopes, I guess you could say, as these various characters pursue the Golden Life and launch Timothy on further adventures in the sequel(s). All the makings of a good introductory novel for a series.
There's a nice hat-tip to another British children's fantasy series that should tickle everyone who catches it -- and mean nothing at all to those who don't.
With each major character (and most of the minor) there's a moment or two, a couple of lines, or a scene that doesn't seem to fit with what we've been told/seen about the character. It'd take too much space to illustrate this, but when you get to that scene (and you'll recognize it just about every time), just shake it off and move on, Timothy or Edwin or Itling or whoever will get back to themselves soon.
I had a hard time nailing down the feel of this one, there's sort of a fairy-tale feel to it. Not Grimm Brothers' fairy-tale, but the warm-fuzzy kind (with a hint of the other), like J. K. Rowling-light. Even a dash Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle at the beginning. Later on, it morphs into a Neil Gaiman-esque children's book feel. Now, Abel never quite hits the Rowling/MacDonald/Lewis/Gaiman tone exactly -- which is good, he's doing his own thing, but it's in those ballparks. The one thing that would help his tone is a bit more economy of words -- he takes a few too many to pull of the whimsy, the sense of play, that he seems to be going for.
Actually, that goes for pretty much the book as a whole -- Abel could've trimmed just about everything a bit. It's a slow read, which is not necessary a bad thing, I've got nothing against them. But I think it works against what he's trying to do and I think I have a little more patience than the target audience would. I'm not saying it needs to be a hundred pages shorter -- but it could read a little smoother, quicker. Really -- how many people noticed the length of Goblet of Fire? You didn't because of the way it was written (not just the exciting parts, either).
I want to be clear, I'm not saying the writing isn't good -- but the pacing and language are so close to being very good, the fact that he misses the target by a little emphasizes the fact that he missed it. This is a winsome and charming book that should enchant younger readers, if they just give it the opportunity.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post/my honest thoughts. I'd like to thank him for the book and for his patience, I took far too long with this.