What an exciting and unsettling book this is! A superb debut! Partly because of the author’s unfamiliar name and partly because of a slight similarity to the atmosphere of Cirque du Freak in the book’s opening pages, I wondered if this might be Darren Shan writing under a nom-de-plume. Certainly the book has all of Shan’s relentless pace and narrative energy. No sooner are you over one tense episode than the next one begins. I found myself reading sections of the book aloud to myself, so flowing is the author’s style, which is timeless and classic, as befits the setting of the story. If my initial impressions were Darren Shan, as I read on I was reminded more of a classic adventure such as John Masefield’s The Box Of Delights.
This novel is genuinely scary. Very scary. The fiendishly indestructible dwarf Valter is a vivid agent of evil in the story.
The main character, a boy named Mathias, acquires a small piece of paper after the death of his grandfather, for which he is pursued. Helped in his flight by Katta, a girl with an injury to her skull, the two become our harried hero and heroine in what is essentially one long extended chase narrative.
This novel is very highly recommended. And well done to David Fickling for once again bringing us such a compelling and promising new author.
One small but significant criticism. Gary Blythe’s black-and-white illustrations inside the novel add excellent atmosphere, but it was a mistake for the coloured jacket illustration to be based on one of a bonneted woman (Anna-Maria) which gives the entirely inaccurate impression that the book is a rosy-cheeked period drama.