I want to plunge right into praises for this book, for several reasons. First, and just to get it out there in public so no one can say I hid the facts from you, I didn’t have to pay for this book. A kind and enthusiastic bookseller sent it to me all the way from the U.K. (Thanks, Nigel!) for me to review. Not to encourage or discourage any authors or publishers who are thinking of making the same offer, I need to add that I only accept such an offer if it sounds like a book that I want to readand I will be honest about what I think of it!
Second, this Volume 1 of the “Dark Inventions” is the beginning of a powerful new fantasy for young readers. It has a bit in common with Philip Pullmans “His Dark Materials” trilogy, and it also reminds me of the “Wolves Chronicles” by Joan Aiken. Set mostly in a ghastly, seaside town in a bizarro-England, for which the weather, crime, industrial pollution, corruption, and unethical journalists make Grimston-on-Sea an amazingly apt name. A weirdly talented girl named Lucy Blakewhose gifts include inventing (also known as LYING)soon comes into focus. Both of her parents disappeared and/or died under mysterious circumstances, and she lives in her ancestral house with a conniving, lampstand-shaped stepmom, a spineless, jingle-writing step-stepdad, and a stepbrother whose name (Tarquin) pretty much tells you everything you need to know about him. She has a friend named Toby Lindstrom, who is pretty ordinarynot particularly brave, not very good at keeping secretsbut solidly loyal. She has another friend named Fenny who vanishes in broad daylight, on a crowded boardwalk, at the beginning of the story. And everyone else, more or less, is her enemy.
That includes some pretty powerful people. By the end of the book, she has made a couple more friends (notably a private dick named Bentley Priory), but lots more powerful enemies including the police, the press, a law firm, the staff of a psychiatric hospital, any number of people and things in a world called Farperoo, and last but not least, an eeeevil angel named Raziel. And why shouldnt Lucy have enemies? She has the power to move between several worlds. She can conjure tons of salted-in-the-shell peanuts out of thin air. She is in possession of a book that existed before the world was created. AND she has the power to alter, create, or destroy reality simply by telling lies…erm, I mean inventions.
So on the Pro side of getting this book: it is a daringly imaginative fantasy, full of thrills, chills, and laugh-out-loud humor; it is attractively illustrated by Matthew S. Armstrong; and, judging by the size of this book, plus certain hints that there may eventually be 3 more like it, you could pass a lot of wonderful hours reading this tale. The author has a very individual style and a clever way of paying out information, though at first its differentness may be a bit offputting. And theres no denying that the book is solidly bound.
HOWEVER, I must also mention the Con side: the binding again. This book is hugethick, wide, tall, and heavily bound. I believe it is self-published, which may explain all this. Maybe an advantage of publishing commercially is that you get a lighter stock of paper, less offensive-smelling ink, and an overall product that sits more comfortably in the hand. This book gave me wrist cramps! But Im not just kvetching about the weight. The page format is like one of those big, dull textbooks you had in high school or college, with really wide paragraphs that cost more effort to read than the narrower format found in most fiction.
My overall verdict is that the book is worth reading even if it is a little hard on the arms and eyesbut I do hope future editions are formatted better. Also, I cant help noticing (because of my theological training) that the authors ideas about angels and demons are a little goofy, if not disturbing. But it is also clear that the worlds (even the real world) in this story are fictional, fantasy worlds where more than just the spelling of things like Ingulesh and Latinn is likely to be different from our own. I think you will enjoy visiting this world, and I predict that you will be hopelessly hooked by the ending.