In the middle of World War 2, when David’s mother died of a long-term illness, and his father remarried Rose, things change irrevocably for David. He soon has a young half brother, is living in a house in the country, and books start whispering to him. One night, when David is out in the garden after believing he’s heard his mother’s voice beckoning to him, a German bomber crashes into the garden, and David escapes into a new world through a crack in the garden wall.
The way back to his own world soon closes up, and David must go on a quest to visit the king of this country – there are rumours that the king has a book that will tell David how he can get home.
On this quest, though, David must face many terrors – men who were once wolves, trolls, harpies, monsters and the one called The Crooked Man. Will he be able to find a way back into his own world?
I had been meaning to read this book right from the moment I first saw it appearing on blogs when it was first released. Of course, it’s been about three and a half years since then, which just shows how long it’s taking me to get through my TBR pile.
So I knew I was going to love this book. And oh how right I was. In fact, I can say that I fell in love with this book three pages in, when I came to this passage:
Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.
Goodness! How wonderful is that? How much does it speak to a book lover? And how could any reader not fall in love with that passage?
Things just continued to go uphill from that point. I especially loved the takes on the fairy tales that were told throughout this book – the twists to Hansel and Gretel, to Little Red Riding Hood, and the spin on Sleeping Beauty. They had elements of the familiar, but were so much darker and more sinister, and have different endings than what we are used to hearing. Love love love!
I had an idea of who the king was right from the beginning – stories where someone from our world enters into another world had prepared me for that. But I liked the inclusion of the Crooked Man, and how he manipulated everything. In fact, I quite liked the Crooked Man in general – I thought he was a great evil character, and his end was a little bit anti-climatic. Alas.
The characterizations of everyone was wonderfully, really. David had so so so much character growth, and that is my most favourite thing in books. And everyone he met came off as being so real and so three-dimensional – the Woodsman was a wonderful guide for the first part of the story, but Roland – oh! – he was lovely, and his love and devotion for his friend Raphael was both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
The Bottom Line
Overall this was a totally brilliant book, and quite possibly my favourite read so far of 2010. I will definitely be revisiting it at some point in the future, and will no doubt be looking to read more of Connolly’s books. Highly recommended.