Jack has always prided himself on his schemes. From childhood capers – nabbing classmates’ sandwiches and stealing ice cream – he graduated to using his talents to swindle people who actually deserve it. His hardworking momma should be proud. But somehow, even though his scams were supposed to be helping the two of them get by, they always upset Jack’s momma – and that was before he went after the cruel giant Blunderboar in a scheme that ended with a huge beanstalk wrecking the neighborhood and Jack being run out of the city of Shyport.
Since then, Jack’s been busy – meeting a girl named Rapunzel and using his trademark trickery to help her defeat a tyrannical witch. Now he’s come home to make good, bringing Rapunzel along – only to find Shyport a police state run by Blunderboar’s giants and terrorized by enormous ant people! Blunderboar has even imprisoned Jack’s momma! Jack seeks out Prudence, a pixie who was his old partner in crime, to help him figure out what to do next.
Behind the giants-and-ant-people weirdness lurks still-more-sinister weirdness, according to Frederick Sparksmith, a young newspaperman that Jack and Rapunzel rescue in Shyport. Frederick has some ideas about what’s really going on and some impressive inventions that might help Jack and his friends save the city. This would all make Freddie a pretty good guy to have around, except that he seems to have his eye on Rapunzel! She must know that Jack is crazy about her – but as more of his criminal past surfaces, Jack wonders whether Rapunzel might not prefer a straight arrow like Freddie. Just one more thing to worry about while Jack is trying to pull off his best-ever scheme and finally make his momma proud.
Like the previous book, Rapunzel’s Revenge, Calamity Jack packs in humor, fun characters, and beautiful full-color illustrations. The setting is different, moving from Wild West desert to a vaguely Victorian city where “Old World” pixies and wights live alongside humans and giants. Freddie’s inventions lend a bit of a steampunk feel to the story, while the appearance of a Jabberwock and a Bandersnatch expand the setting beyond those of classic fairytales and folktales.
The violence – though frequent – is cartoonish rather than brutal. The bone-grinding giants – especially the rather eloquently threatening Blunderboar – make this story a little darker than the previous book, but won’t be enough to put most young readers off this clever and action-packed adventure.