Fergus Crane lives with his mother who struggles to make ends meet while working as at Boris Biederbecker's bakery that is conveniently located right next to in the Archduke Ferdinand Apartments where the Cranes live. Nine-year-old Fergus has just begun to attend school aboard the Betty Jean, which, although the teachers seem suspiciously like pirates, offers free schooling. One night, a mysterious mechanical flying box delivers a message to Fergus and his adventure begins. Talking penguins, flying mechanical horses, delicious but rare nuts, beautiful but rare diamonds, a long-lost uncle and a rescue at sea ensue.
As with all of Paul Stewart's books, he is a master of names, which are almost as descriptive as Chris Riddell's brilliant illustrations. The cast of quirky characters and the imaginative settings, along with some wonderously impossible inventions make for a great read. The all- illustrations epilogue wraps up the story in a very satisfying way.