I started to read this book expecting to love it. After all, it has ‘Book’ in the title, right? And some rave reviews somewhere. I forget where. I see so many Ya Gotta Read These 27 __________Books Before You Die lists that I lose track of where I saw anything.
It starts off just fine. It is set in England right before the start of WWII, although, really, it could be set anywhere and in any time period. A young boy of twelve loses his mother to cancer. The boy is given to hearing things, voices. The voices of books, actually. They speak to him. They whine, they complain, they grumble, they gossip. What’s not to like so far.
About six months after his mother’s death, his father introduces him to a new woman, and not long after, announces they will be getting married. And she is pregnant. So in addition to raising our collective eyebrows at this, we are starting to suspect that maybe dear old dad had been seeing the sweetie on the side while his wife was busy dying of cancer. But really, none of that is any of our business and has nothing to do with the story.
They get married and move to the woman’s house about 50 miles outside of London, which at this time is getting to be a good idea, what with the bombing and all. She has the baby, our young man, David, is as most teens are with new stepparents, unpleasant to her, and is highly resentful of the baby.
His books are talking more and more to him. One night, thinking he hears his dead mother calling him to rescue her, he wanders out to the garden just as an enemy plane, hit by defensive weapons and afire, crashes, into the garden, whereupon David is thrown aside, finds himself in a tree, and steps out into another world.
He has all kinds of nasty adventures in this other world, a quest built upon typical quest lines, meets a woodsman, then meets a knight on his own quest, comes upon a murdered girl in a bottle, is abducted by a huntress bent on sawing apart animals and humans and fusing them together to create innovative prey for her hunting skills, a whole lot of wolves and half men/half wolves, some dwarfs, trolls, harpies, and a really fat Snow White.
He complains that the stories are all mixed up, and when they find a modernday military tank in the woods, observes that it doesn’t belong there. He is on a journey to find the old, ineffectual king of the region who has a mysterious book called The Book of Lost Things, which David hopes will help him find his mother and get back home.
So basically the bulk of the book is taken up by this mashup of old fairy tales and legends, all corrupted and twisted and quite violent and bloody. And finally, guess. You will never guess. He wakes up in a hospital bed.
Was it a dream? A paranormal event? But after his adventures, now he is sweet and kind to his stepmother and a loving sibling to his half brother. And we have a few pages where everything is wrapped up all tidy to the end of each character’s life.
Well. It was too bloody and gory and gratuitously violent to be a child’s book, it wasn’t much of a coming of age book, it didn’t appeal to me as a self-defined grownup, so I don’t know who it is aimed at.
It is full of the kind of sticky declarations of morality like in those dreadful tales meant for Victorian children. I almost expected to see Dorothy clicking her red heels exclaiming, There’s no place like home.
So it isn’t YA, or a children’s book, and someone called it an adult urban fantasy. Or a psychological study. Someone else called it an examination of the loss of innocence.
I just call it boring.