Thanks to Penguin Random House, I was recently sent copies of the entire Pages and Co. series so far, including the latest title, The Book Smugglers that was released in September this year. I have spent the last few weeks catching up on this incredibly cozy book series that I think will appeal to many readers both young and old. This ongoing middle-grade book series follows a young girl named Tilly Pages who lives in a London bookshop named Pages and Co. with her maternal grandparents, Archie and Elsie following her mother’s disappearance shortly after Tilly was born.
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In the first book – Pages and Co.: Tilly and the Bookwanderers, Tilly discovers that she is a bookwanderer. Bookwanderers have the ability to use book magic whenever they are within bookshops or libraries. Characters from their favorite books can materialize in real life for conversations and with a little practice, bookwanderers can also read themselves inside books and experience the story as if it were happening to them. Soon, Tilly is spending time with Anne Shirley from Green Gables and visiting Wonderland to have tea with Alice and the Mad Hatter.
Tilly also discovers that her entire family are bookwanderers too, and that this ongoing family secret might be linked to her mother’s disappearance. Both her grandparents once worked at the British Underlibrary, a secret organization that monitors bookwandering in order to keep readers and books safe. However, there is a nefarious element at the Underlibrary with some librarians wanting to exert more control over who gets to use book magic, and Tilly is immediately uncomfortable when she meets Enoch Chalk, a creepy librarian who keeps showing up in unexpected places and seems determined to catch her out.
Tilly soon discovers, along with her best friend Oskar, that bookwandering isn’t always as fun and lighthearted as she first believes. There are dangers to be found within the pages and Tilly herself might be at the heart of a huge bookwandering mystery.
Book two – Tilly and the Lost Fairytales – picks up a few months later and is set over the Christmas period, making it perfect to read over the holidays. As Tilly and Oskar prepare to take a trip to Paris, they are increasingly aware of ongoing problems in the bookwandering world as the events of the previous book begin to have serious repercussions at the British Underlibrary. With a coup seemingly about to take place, the children are being kept in the dark in an effort to keep them safe, but the pair can’t help wandering into trouble.
Book two also introduces the world of fairytales and the dangers they present due to there being so many versions of them, making them highly unstable for wandering inside the pages. Of course, that doesn’t stop Tilly and Oskar from daring to bookwander inside some and it is here that they see how much danger book magic itself is in when characters and entire stories start to vanish as the book magic leaks out of the fairytales entirely. It’s down to Tilly and her unusual abilities to save the day, but will it be enough to stop the dangers that are now happening out in the real world too?
Things get even weirder in Tilly and the Map of Stories. With the British Underlibrary now completely under the control of a group who don’t care about the best interests of bookwanderers and book magic, Tilly is determined to locate the legendary Archivists who she believes can save bookwandering. The problem is that no one in living memory has ever seen or heard from the Archivists and many believe they are nothing more than bookwandering folklore.
Believing she has a clue that will lead her to their location, Tilly finds herself headed to America with Oskar in tow in the hopes of decoding the message and finding her way to the Archive. However, on her travels, Tilly discovers that the stories she reads are no longer content to remain within their pages and are beginning to seep out and try to drag her inside with them.
Soon, the kids find themselves deeper inside the world of stories than they have ever been before. There, they meet Milo who lives aboard the Quip – his Uncle Horatio’s magical steam train that is powered by imagination. Soon the group has teamed up to work together in the hopes of saving bookwandering once and for all by visiting the Archive and gathering the help of a few Shakespearean friends too.
Finally, so far at least, we get to The Book Smugglers. Book four is very different from the previous three, largely because the book alternates between the perspectives of Milo and Tilly, with Oskar barely present for more than a couple of paragraphs.
In The Book Smugglers, Tilly’s grandfather Archie is poisoned by a copy of The Wizard of Oz and falls into a magical sleep. After learning that a cure may have been hidden within the Emerald City itself, Tilly and Milo head inside the pages of the classic book where they work with Dorothy and friends to try and locate it. Soon, they find themselves caught up in an intricate plan set in motion years before and having to once again work with Anne Shirley, the Railway Children, and an unexpected new friend, in order to rescue parts of the cure from the Archive and change the bookwandering world forever.
I really enjoyed reading the Pages and Co. series. It is the epitome of cozy, magical, middle-grade stories and will appeal to anyone who has ever wanted to step inside a book they really loved. As I read, I found myself wanting to finally pick up the classic stories it draws on that I haven’t yet read, from Anne of Green Gables to The Railway Children and even Sherlock Holmes. I loved the concept of the British Underlibrary hidden beneath the actual British Library and it reminded me of another popular British middle-grade series with secret institutions below London, although it was never entirely clear what all these librarians were actually doing, and as an adult, I’m curious as to who is paying for all this?!
One problem I had with the series is that it has become more convoluted and confusing with every book and has also been gradually drifting away from the magic of bookwandering that made the first book so enjoyable. Book three, in particular, has almost no bookwandering scenes at all and instead focuses on Tilly delving deep within the baffling realm of Story itself. Book four, meanwhile, was let down not only by a lack of bookwandering (although it does improve upon book three) but also by the choice to sideline one of the series’ main protagonists entirely in favor of a minor character from the previous book. Given the ending, it seems like this trend will continue into book five too. The idea of bookwandering is a powerful one with an almost infinite scope which is why it’s so disappointing that the central concept is so frequently neglected and barely utilized. The author did recently tweet out that book five will possibly contain, “the most bookwandering… since book one” and if this is the case, it will be a fantastic return that I guess a lot of readers will appreciate.
Despite these issues, I did thoroughly enjoy the Pages and Co. series and I know I’ll be picking up book five whenever it is released (hopefully September 2022 if previous release dates can be used as a guide). If you’re looking for a new middle-grade series for a young reader this holiday season – or an older reader for that matter – then I would highly recommend giving this one a chance.
GeekMom received copies of all titles featured here for review purposes.