Book Review: “Dead upon a Time” by Elizabeth Paulson

When Kate Hood’s grandmother disappears, leaving behind several grotesque tapestries depicting children being tortured in horrible ways, no one in her village will help Kate look for her. In fact, it seems to have finally given the villagers the encouragement they need to never speak to her again – they’ve never trusted anyone with Uncommon blood in their veins. In desperation, she turns to Jack, another village outcast after he had a nasty run-in with a giant a few years back. Before they can get far in their search, however, they’re taken to the king; it seems a princess has gone missing, and they’re the prime suspects.

The first thing I should say is that Dead upon a Time isn’t nearly so scary as it sounds (or looks – the cover is delightfully creepy!), and it’s barely gruesome, so don’t be afraid to give it a try if you’re put off by it’s eerie title and cover.

The book’s biggest flaw is that it lacks depth. Paulson’s world-building is intriguing but never really fleshed out fully throughout the course of the novel. Similarly, everything seems to happen too fast – the resolution, especially, is something I feel could have gone on for several more pages. There are some really fascinating family dynamics going on there! But it was all over before I really had time to process it.

On the bright side, despite all of this I found Dead upon a Time to be compulsively readable, so much so that I read it all in one sitting. Kate and Jack make an interesting pair, and I found myself caught up in the adventure. The fairy tale parallels are fun to spot, even if they weren’t always developed as fully as I would have liked. By the end, I even found myself hoping that there would be a sequel – Paulson’s world is one I would like to return to and learn more about!

Ultimately, the most interesting things about Dead upon a Time are the ones that aren’t fully addressed in the book: Exactly what kind of powers does Kate’s grandma have? What’s up with that evil Queen? How exactly did Jack’s encounter with the giant go down? All of that is due to the power of Paulson’s imagination and her readable prose. She has a knack for making you long for the story yet to come.

A copy of the book was provided by the publisher for review.