This fantasy illustra-novel (short for illustrated novel) is the first book in "The Dopple Ganger Chronicles" by G.P. Taylor and is published by SaltRiver Books, a division of Tyndale House Publishers.
The First Escape is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Sadie and Saskia Dopple and Erik Morrissey Ganger live at Isambard Dunstan's School for Wayward Children. Sadie and Saskia are the terror of the school. Their antics include everything from throwing hard-boiled eggs at people to pretending to turn into a werewolf to make another girl with a weak stomach vomit to setting a desk on fire. Their headmistress, Miss Rimmer, despises them. She finds a way to separate them by allowing rich benefactor Muzz Elliott to take Saskia. Muzz Elliott's insane twin sister, Cicely, Cicely's daughter and Muzz's chauffeur plot to murder Saskia and Muzz Elliott once they find Lord Trevellyn's hidden treasure in Muzz Elliott's mansion. In the midst of this, Saskia meets a ghostly figure, Madame Raphael, who gives her advice and leaves her clues. Saskia is unsure as to whether she is a spirit or human. Meanwhile, Sadie and Erik escape the orphanage because Miss Rimmer intends to have them thrown in jail for their delinquent behavior. They meet a magician who tries to electrocute, then guillotine, them. They are constantly on the run from the police because Miss Rimmer has trumped up crimes against them. The duo makes it to Muzz Elliot's mansion in their search for Saskia in time to save her and Muzz Elliot from being murdered. In the end, Muzz Elliott decides she may want to keep all three children — Saskia, Sadie and Erik — as her own. Saskia learns that Muzz Elliott is able to see Madame Raphael, but the two of them are the only ones. The final clue in the book from Madame Raphael leads them to the second book in this series.
Madame Raphael tells Saskia about the Companion. The Companion is never far from those who need him, but he isn't a ghost. He can hear everything that everyone says, from the heart out. Madame Raphael only appears to Saskia and Muzz Elliott, although Muzz Elliott can no longer hear what the figure says, as she did as a child. When asked, Madame Raphael says that she is "a voice of one crying in the wilderness," John the Baptist's words. She tells Saskia to follow her, reminiscent of how Jesus says this so that Saskia can find a treasure that is better than Lord Trevellyn's. Muzz Elliott thinks of Madame Raphael as an angel. At the end of the book, Madame Raphael leaves Saskia a clue about an indigo moon, which leads them to their next adventure in the next book.
Sadie calls the orphanage's cook an "old wart face." The cook throws a spoon and hits Sadie in the face. Sadie also talks back to Miss Rimmer, demonstrating her disrespect for authority. Muzz Elliott says that Saskia is a brat who is vicious and without a work ethic. Twins Sadie and Saskia believe their actress mother forgot about them, but eventually will return for them. Erik is in this all girls orphanage because his father, who is a burglar, asked him to wait on the steps of it while his father went to get cigarettes. Erik believes that his father was either arrested or had to go quite a distance for those cigarettes. Muzz Elliot tells Saskia that her job is to drive by her twin in about 10 years and not feel bad about throwing a few coins to her. When Mr. Martinet, an authority figure at the orphanage, takes the man from the school board up to the tower to take Sadie to prison, he tells the man that Sadie should have her "entrails fed to seagulls" and that he hopes to make the end of her stay in the orphanage miserable. The police are somewhat bumbling and easily outsmarted by children. Erik speaks of his father and the family's trade — burglary — with pride. Mr. Martinet and the police tell Sadie and Erik that Mr. Martinet and the police will testify to whatever crime they need to make up in order for the children to be put in prison.
Sadie pretends to be poisoned and to be turning into a werewolf that becomes a vampire dog. Oscar supposedly talks to Muzz Elliott, but no one sees him. The chauffeur implies that Oscar is a spirit. Saskia has the odd impression that the four plaster faces of the children decorating the hallway ceiling are real and that they are watching her. In the past, Sadie and Saskia knew a little about what the other was thinking or they could finish each other's sentences. Of course, there are some unexplained events in their lives, such as one twin being stung by a wasp and the other having the effects of it; or one being cut, and the other bleeding. When they are separated, Saskia has a vision of Sadie being taken to the tower for punishment by Mr. Martinet, which really happens. Saskia then enters a room where a puppet and every inanimate object in the room are able to talk to her. She can't leave the room until they unlock the door for her. She feels as if something noisy, but invisible, is chasing her up the tower steps. In her tower room, she meets Madame Raphael, who warns Saskia that Muzz Elliott holds séances. Of course, she says that Muzz Elliott thinks she is talking to the dead, but really she is just talking to the others in the room. Madame Raphael warns that these séances are dangerous. Muzz Elliott invites Madame Petrusa to lead the séance, and she supposedly channels someone named Oscar. Madame Petrusa is raised off her seat and things in the room move, but Saskia notices that all the strange occurrences are being performed with trick wires. At Muzz Elliott's house, everything that seemed to be performed by a spirit was a hoax, except for Madame Raphael.
The author says that the chauffeur curses and threatens, but no actual words are given. Sadie is set on vengeance against Charlotte Grimdyke. The twins throw hardboiled eggs at people and the dog of the headmistress. When Saskia is taken to her new home, Sadie feels as if she has been "cleaved" in half. Muzz Elliott's chauffeur, Brummagen, uses the car to spray a bicycle peddler with gravel, which causes the man on the bicycle to tumble off the road. Brummagen justifies his actions because the peddler sold Muzz Elliott a tomato and said it was an apple. Brummagen hits a swan with the car, and he is going to give it to the cook. When dared, Sadie sets the headmistress's desk on fire and lies that she didn't do it. Sadie is attached to a drying rack in Miss Rimmer's office and suspended four feet above the ground so the headmistress can search her pockets for matches. Miss Rimmer's dog bites the heel of Sadie's shoe when she is suspended in mid-air. When Saskia looks at a picture of Lord Trevellyn standing over a wild donkey, she imagines animals peacefully grazing until crazy colonists blow them to bits. Because of the fire she started, Sadie is locked in the tower without food and water. Sadie accidentally attacks Eric when he enters the tower room to help her. Sadie gets revenge on Charlotte Grimdyke by pouring salt in her water. Potemkin, a magician the children find, tells how he shot a chicken in the air that he intended to blow up. Unfortunately his assistant took a bite out of it in mid-air before the explosion. The incident ended Potemkin's career as a magician. Potemkin tries to electrocute, then guillotine, Sadie and Erik, as part of one of his magic tricks. Cicely, Muzz Elliott's twin sister, tries to poison Muzz Elliot and drown Saskia in a pond. The back of the police van explodes when Sadie, Eric and Potemkin are in it, which allows them to escape. Cicely and her daughter intend to kill Muzz Elliott's chauffeur after he has murdered Muzz Elliott and Saskia. Saskia knocks Cicely's daughter unconscious. Erik knocks Potemkin unconscious with a fence post. Muzz Elliott and Saskia are tied in linen bags, and it's assumed that they will be buried alive. The actual cause of their death, once drowning Saskia in the pond and giving Muzz Elliott poison is ruled out, is not mentioned. The chauffeur shoots an elephant gun at Erik, who is standing a few feet away from him, but the shot misses. The chauffeur suffers a nonfatal electrocution when the shovel that he is about to kill Erik with is caught in electrical wires above his head.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Note:Many large and small violent actions take place in this story, but no one seems to be held accountable for or hurt by them. Consequences come as a result of external actions and people's agendas. For example, Sadie sets fire to Miss Rimmer's desk. Miss Rimmer reacts by hanging Sadie on a clothes rack, searching her for the matches, locking Sadie in a tower without food and water, and calling the police. Right and wrong is not explored, nor are the consequences for right and wrong differentiated.
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