It was the book’s title and cover art that made me pick it up in the bookstore. Who was the girl with the determined look on her face, and, more importantly, why would she hunt mice? I took a chance and bought it, and found what turned out to be a fun, original story that my kids and I loved.
The Mousehunter takes place in a world reminiscent of our own, circa the early 19th century, only with one crucial difference: There are hundreds of different species of mice, each with its own highly unusual set of abilities and characteristics. The humans of the book’s world interact with and use the mice in all sorts of different ways. There are Sharpclaw Mice, which have (as their name would suggest) huge extremely sharp front claws; they are very dangerous to have around, but really useful for soldiers going into battle to unleash against enemy troops. There are many different species of winged mice, often used to carry messages. There are Powder Mice, who are very good at helping ships’ crews keep their cannons loaded. There are huge mice, tiny mice, very helpful mice, very dangerous mice, and in general way more fun and interesting ideas for mice than you’d expect.
The human characters of the book are very well-written, too. The story focuses on Emiline, a young Mousekeeper (and the girl pictured on the cover) who wants more than anything to become a Mousehunter (the difference being that Mousekeepers are responsible for taking care of existing collections of mice, while Mousehunters go out and find interesting mice). Her life having grown a bit stagnant, she gets herself on board the ship of the great (if egotistical) Captain Devlin Drewshank as he goes off in pursuit of the dread pirate Mousebeard. But Emiline quickly finds that nobody, particularly Mousebeard, is quite what he or she seems to be at first.
The story moves quickly and entertainingly, with plenty of humor and tension to keep kids and adults alike invested in the plot. Each chapter opens with a fun one-page precis about a particular species of mouse, usually (but not always) one that is somehow involved in the story. The book’s author, Alex Milway, is also an accomplished cartoonist, and so a drawing of each mouse accompanies its description.
The Mousehunter by Alex Milway is likely appropriate for most kids five and up, though younger kids would probably need help reading it. The book retails for $5.99 in paperback. It is also the first book in a trilogy, the second book of which — The Mousehunter: The Curse of Mousebeard — has recently been released in the U.S. (the books were first published in the U.K.). The third book, The Mousehunter: Mousebeard’s Revenge is scheduled to be published in the U.S. in the not-too-distant future, or can be ordered via an overseas seller.
Wired: A world that’s a lot of fun to get to know. The author does a great job making the reader feel how different, and yet how similar, the world is to our own. My kids love the books so much I ordered the third one from overseas rather than make them wait.
Tired: Some of the human characters in the book are a bit underdeveloped. This isn’t uncommon in kids’ books, of course, but you may find yourself wishing you could identify better with the reasons some characters make the decisions they do.
Summary: Highly recommended for kids and grownups alike. Mousehunter will never be considered great literature, but it’s a really fun read that will have you wanting to know what happens next. If you’re unconvinced you can read the book’s first chapter (PDF) for free online.