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The Eyeball Collector by F.E. Higgins
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's review
Feb 13, 2010

really liked it
Read in November, 2009



Puzzling riddles


...and Butterflies?

The Eyeball Collector has got it all. A villain as dastardly as Count Olaf, with an eyepatch and multiple disguises. An orphan straight out of a Dickens novel with thieving compatriots reminiscent of the Artful Dodger and company. A cold and imperious noble, Lady Mandible, who has mysterious plans of her own. A spine-shivery, gothic atmosphere tinged with menace.

At first I saw nothing. The moon was behind the swollen clouds and the sheeting rain made everything blurry. but then pitchforked lightning split the inky sky and my heart faltered. In its white light, my disbelieving eyes saw a vast jagged silhouette stretching across a broad mountainous outcrop like a diabolical gathering of crouching devils. Their horns were the towers and the light burning in the windows their evil red eyes.

"Tatri flammis!" I breathed and could say not another word. This behemoth before me was Whittypitts Hall.

"This is madness!" shouted Solomon. "Come back with me. It's not too late."

Hector is a plucky and likeable hero, with a special gift of riddling which helps him survive after his father dies. Another gift, one for cultivating rare butterflies, lands him in luxurious Whittypitts Hall, close enough to exact revenge on the man he blames for his father's death, Baron Bovrik de Vandolin. However, these gifts and his desire for revenge also puts him in harm's way, for there are evil doings happening in Whittypitts Hall, centered around the enigmatic Lady Mandible. Hector plots to exact revenge on the night of the Mandible Midwinter Feast, but his plans threaten to go awry when Lady Mandible and Baron Bovrik's terrible secrets are revealed...

Every time I think I have seen the worst this abominable place has to offer, I am proved wrong. As for the despicable man who plays at Baron, I can hardly wait until the feast is over and my task completed. Then I shall be gone from here, for I swear, if I have to stay a moment longer I fear for my sanity and my character.

What goes on during the Mandible Midwinter Feast is memorable, not only because the plot climaxes at this point, but also for the truly awful feast that commences. I am specially attuned to food description in books and this one made me naseous. If I ever compile a list of the best of the worst food scenes, this will be the very first to come to mind.

The revelers, each and every one, ate as if there was no tomorrow. What a feast it was! ... As fast as a pitcher of wine or a plate of food was brought out, it was emptied and another was demanded. Up and down the length of the table gaping mouths and drooling, dribbling chins were the order of the day, and the beleaguered servers were grabbed by one fellow and tugged by another until their tunics were practically torn asunder.

He watched the guests feed, hand to plate to mouth, hand to plate to mouth, in a ceaseless repetition. Dormouse tails (apparently particularly delicious) dangled from their lips; entire sparrows dropped into their gaping maws; fat plums and cherries ready to burst were forced into their mouths until the juices squirted in all directions. This was not hunger, this was sheer unadulterated gluttony.

Although this is Higgins's third book set in Urbs Umida and apparently including some recurring character(s) from The Black Book of Secrets and The Bone Magician, The Eyeball Collector is a stand alone book. I haven't read the other two (but I soon will!) and I was not at all lost reading this one.

The Eyeball Collector is a well-written, intelligent book with gothic suspense for middle grade to young adults. Best of all, it has riddling conundrums sprinkled throughout like little treats (with answers in the back of the book). There is some violence.

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