There are at least 70 great pages of scary action at the end of this novel, but it takes a long time to get there. And it’s going to take a particularThere are at least 70 great pages of scary action at the end of this novel, but it takes a long time to get there. And it’s going to take a particularly determined teen reader to reach the final pay-off.
The lead-up is a complex combination of strangeness and fascination. I didn’t have much trouble keeping up with the various factors involved in the creepy history of Bryers Guerdon and its neighboring villages: that’s mainly because I gave up. The backstory covers 500 years of history, from the Protestant Reformation through World War Two. It was a lot more entertaining to simply enjoy Barraclough’s descriptions of the architecture and landscape of the region, instead of trying to make sense of all of it. And now I know what a lychgate is, and who Apollyon is.
It would help me a lot, though, if my edition of the book came with a map. Each road and plot of land is a unique piece of the overall puzzle, and there’s a lot of anxiety involved in getting from one place to the next.
There’s a similar jigsaw among the characters. I couldn’t keep up with the inter-family dynamics across the ages, but it was fun to follow along with Cora and Mimi and the Jotman brood on their adolescent adventures. And that’s a big part of the strangeness of this story. Four-year-old Mimi is obviously a target for some sinister force, and there are lots of premonitions of ghosts and ancient horrors. But in those moments when older sister Cora isn’t scared out of her wits, she’s perfectly content to get herself and Mimi into deeper and deeper trouble, or simply ignore the evil and go out to play. It’s all very disconcerting.
Barraclough does admirable work to cut through the plot fog as she sets up the climax. By the time Long Lankin bared his claws, I knew exactly what was at stake. The situation was clear to the point of being predictable, but that was OK, because it was still a good bit of frantic fun. ...more
There’s a lot to be scared about in this book: plenty of scary noises, and dark passages, and haunting faces. On a more direct grisly level, the violeThere’s a lot to be scared about in this book: plenty of scary noises, and dark passages, and haunting faces. On a more direct grisly level, the violence is extreme, especially for younger readers. Murdoch and his cleaver will make it hard for some to sleep.
But this isn’t simply a fright – it’s also a very well-constructed view of 19th century British history. Scabbajack, the good ghost, guides his modern counterpart Zak through an insightful, depressing tour of child labor practices in the textile mills of 100+ years ago. The machinery, the pollution, and the threat of angry bosses were real-life terrors for millions of people, young and old.
The book isn’t perfect: the side story of Zak as a writer clashes with the flow of the story at times. And without giving away too much – the resolution is more bright and sunny than circumstances deserved. But for those who like something to think about with their scares, this book delivers. ...more