My thanks to Pushkin Children’s Books and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
I hadn’t been requesting or reading books from NetGalley for the last few months as I wanted to tackle my own TBR pile. But browsing through NetGalley some days ago I came across this one, and reading the description made me think this was something on the lines of Eva Ibbotson’s books which I very much enjoy so I decided to put in a request, and this did turn out to be a great deal of fun.
Twelve-year-old Edwin Robbins lives with his parents, and they are planning to have a small swimming pool to which he dreams of inviting his friends. But these dreams are shattered when he learns that not only is there going to be no pool, the family must move to another house and he is going to have a sibling. To add to his woes (he is certainly not ‘thrilled to bits’ as his parents claim), his baby sister is named Mandoline. On one house-hunting trip with his father, Edwin comes across a strange advertisement for a pen pal, and decides for fun to answer and places the reply (as called for by the notice) in a chimney. To his horror, it goes up and some weeks later he even receives a response. The writer (and he who placed the ad) is another young boy, Lanthorne Ghules but he lives not in Edwin’s world but a strange parallel world where everything is dark, grey and rotten, and the inhabitants are more or less, ghouls. After a letter or two which expectedly scares Edwin, Lanthorne comes for a short visit, and before he knows it, Edwin finds himself pulled into Lanthorne’s world—here Edwin is a shiner, someone who stands out in a grey, dark space and who is a curiosity not much liked. After encountering some rather strange creatures, and almost running into Lanthorne’s rather dangerous aunt Necra, Edwin manages to escape only to find that his little sister, who he claimed to not like has been kidnapped and taken to Lanthorne’s world, and it is only him (with Lanthorne’s help) who can rescue and bring her back.
The world that the author has created in the book is dark and creepy but still I think a good bit of fun (to read about, at any rate). Lanthorne’s world lies parallel to the human world and Lanthorne, Edwin and others go back and forth through ‘doors’. In Lanthorne’s world, not only are people grey skinned, but the general atmosphere is grey and musty too, as are people clothes—the world is devoid of any light or colour, and their food habits are equally strange for they allow things to ‘ripen’ before they eat them. Things here have reflections of the human world (such as celebrating Nollig not Christmas, and in Dikembra not December) but are still as different as can be, and the ways of the ‘traditionalists’ here are stranger still. The animals who live here are no less peculiar, and some positively deadly. I did like the Snarghe though. The author has created an imaginative and fairly scary place, where one certainly wouldn’t want to be trapped–ever.
The plot itself I enjoyed a lot—a fun adventure where young Edwin finds himself having to undertake a rescue mission that he alone can (having been in Lanthorne’s world before, and being the only one who knows of it). Lanthorne stands by and helps Edwin like a true friend but with the others in his world, one can never be sure for everyone and everything is strange, and one doesn’t know whom to trust (Of course, as events unfold we find that just as in the human world, there are kind-hearted people as well as evil ones). Still the boys go on, helped by one person or another but find themselves in danger more than once, at times with little hope of escape.
Of the characters, Edwin himself I didn’t take to too much—he came across as a bit of a brat, not grateful for the help he gets or those going out of their way for him. One does feel for him since he is trapped in a frightening place for little fault of his own, but at the same time, his attitude towards things was off-putting. Lanthorne on the other hand, I did like—he is genuinely looking to make friends, and takes trouble to help Edwin as far as he can from lending him things and helping him return the first time to being by his side, supporting him throughout the trip to rescue Mandoline. The villains are nice and creepy, their actions at times giving one chills down the spine.
Despite not liking Edwin all that much, I did enjoy the book—imaginative and entertaining, though with a definitely dark touch! The ending had a rather fun little touch that I liked very much indeed!
The book comes out in Mid-September by the way, so well in time for a Halloween read!