Milo is an adopted Chinese boy that thinks about his birth parents throughout the story and then feels guilty for doing so. His adopted parents consist of a dad that is "good at quiet" and a mom that is good at talking. His parents are extremely busy with the guests but check in with Milo and help him with his journey of dealing with sense of loss over his biological parents. Their empathy with Milo represents loving parents that know they can't replace the hole Milo feels in wondering what and why his real parents gave him up for adoption, but they try to help him process it. Milo learns with the help of not only his parents, but some of the guests how to deal with his loss in a healthy way.
Milo and Meddy create a game where they choose a character that becomes their alter-ego. They solve the mysteries going on at the Inn and it allows them to take on characteristics that they don't feel they have in real life. Milo is anxious and quiet, but as his game character, "Negret" known as an escaladeur or spy, Milo can be anything he wants. As Meddy explains, "...it's a character. It's a different version of you. In the game, it helps to think of being different from you that lives in the real world." At one point Milo realizes that he didn't have to get into the play-acting to behave like Negret, and it is at this point, he starts to become more confident in his own abilities.
Milo and Meddy's playacting adds humor and fun to the story. The Odd Trails game they are playing is like a video game with avatars even though it is a board game. The clever titles give it a medieval-type atmosphere and Milo and Meddy even add obstacles to the mystery to make their discoveries more exciting. I remember doing this with my friend as a kid. We'd get so wrapped up in our imaginative play we'd try to make things more complicated to add to the fun. Milo and Meddy don't just give the guests their stolen items back. They wrap the items as presents and put them under the tree because they are afraid of being accused of the thefts. At times they make the situations harder than need be, but it is all a part of the pretend play mixed with reality. This makes the plot entertaining and creative with resolutions. Add to that the adult made-up stories with the children's and the mysteries deepen as the story unfolds.
The author's word choices and imagery are beautiful such as "orphan magic," that means an orphan has more power from knowing loss. "When one remains, it is the one that was meant to remain. It is the one that is special; it is precious because it is unique; it is powerful because that is how it survived. ...It has potential when it is connected to the rest, but when it is sundered away, its potential becomes power." Milo finds some antique keys with writing on them and using Negret he pretends they are keys to his birth parents. He doesn't feel guilty using his alter-ego. He fantasizes about his Chinese dad, "I always knew you would follow in my footsteps, his father might have said. We all knew, the entire family, because you take after me so very much. We even look alike." Milo and Meddy have fun plowing through attic junk and using it for their game. Meddy finds a yellow robe and dubs it the Cloak of Indiscernibility; Milos hat becomes the Helm of Revelations; Meddy's sunglasses are the Eyes of True and Aching Clarity; and the box of glass shards, Gems of Ultimate Puissance.
I thought the pacing at the start was somewhat slow but it is setting up for a great twist at the end. Take that for what it is worth... I am biased toward action and not the most patient reader. The author does a great job having the sleuths discover the obvious clues right away and then adding a layer of unforeseen difficulty. The last few mysteries I've read have taken obvious clues and then dragged them out forever before the protagonist thinks about it. Here, the author is spot-on with the clues and resolutions. At times reading this book made me think of "Murder on the Orient Express" by Agatha Christie and "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin. A must for your library.