by William Alexander
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2012
Middle Grade Fantasy
Reviewed from copy received in publisher giveaway.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In the town of
Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and
moves her house around—much like the fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga.
Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her
household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother Rowan, who
is an actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has
Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe
of goblins who skirt the law to put on plays. But their plays are not
only for entertainment, and the masks they use are for more than
make-believe. The goblins also want to find Rowan—because Rowan might be
the only person who can save the town from being flooded by a mighty
This accessible, atmospheric fantasy takes a
gentle look at love, loss, and family while delivering a fast-paced
adventure that is sure to satisfy.
This book didn't end up being exactly the way I pictured it, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. The world building was fantastic. I could easily picture the city built in the ravine with the large river running through the center of it and the bridge that seemed to function like a sanctuary. The clock tower was a fascinating addition, I loved the idea of a clock that showed what time of day it was with a moon and sun rising and setting. I also really appreciated the mask mythology and how wearing a mask could almost turn you into whatever the mask portrayed.
Character-wise, Alexander created some interesting ones both good and bad, although there wasn't a whole lot of depth to them. I would have liked them to be a little more three dimensional. But Rownie was a likeable protagonist kind of finding himself through the story. Graba made a great contrast with her bulk and chicken-shaped, gear legs. The goblins or Tamlin's as the call themselves were great secondary characters, each other unique in their characteristics. Thomas, the loud, easily annoyed seemed like the leader, but Semele, the really old and experienced goblin really led the group. It was fun seeing Rownie get to know them and find a place where he felt like he belonged. Rownie's brother, Rowan was an interesting side character and a bit of mystery since he is talked about a lot but is an enigma for most of the book.
One aspect of the storyline bothered me a tad because it was a bit gruesome. The taking of hearts and using them as 'coal' made me a little sick but provides a powerful twist in the plot. The plot moves along nicely from Rownie's discovery and involvement with the goblins to the conflict with Graba and the sudden confrontation with the town mayor who has banned all acting within the city, a law which Rownie violates. The possible flooding of the river though is the main conflict that Rownie finds himself confronting with the goblins due to their history with masks. I enjoyed how all the plotlines came together at the end in somewhat surprising ways.
Overall, an enjoyable book with fun characters, a unique plot, and a fabulous setting. The length is perfect for middle grade readers who aren't yet ready to tackle longer fantasies such as Harry Potter.