Author: Kim Thompson
Publisher: Dundurn Press
Format: Paperback, 176 pages (a finished copy was provided by Dundurn Press)
Publication date: October 23, 2012
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.
Twelve-year-old Willa Fuller is convinced that the old folks in the shabby boarding house down the street are prisoners of their sinister landlady, Miss Trang. Only when Willa is hired on as housekeeper does she discover the truth, which is far more fascinating. Eldritch Manor is a retirement home for some very strange beings indeed. All have stories to tell — and petty grievances with one another and the world at large. Storm clouds are on the horizon, however, and when Miss Trang departs on urgent business, Willa is left to babysit the cantankerous bunch. Can she keep the oldsters in line, stitch up unravelling time, and repel an all-out attack from the forces of darkness all while keeping the nosy neighbours out of their business and uncovering a startling secret about her own past?
Eldritch Manor begins very quietly, with twelve-year old Willa being told by her mom that she can’t go to the shore to visit her grandfather, but that she has to find a paying job to help support the family. After a series of missteps, Willa ends up finding out about Eldritch Manor, a very strange elderly home with even stranger tenants. Willa accidentally takes the Manor’s housekeeper out of the equation, and thus becomes the next housekeeper.
In order to test whether she’s able to keep the secrets of this place, Miss Trang, the keeper of the house invites Willa to a dinner where she’s not allowed to act like anyone is strange or different. It’s a dinner with the weirdest beings she’s ever encountered. I don’t want to give away what/who the occupants of Eldritch are, but suffice to say, they come from a different world. Fantastical, mythical creatures are a reality in this world, and Willa meets Belle, a cranky lady who really just wants to go to the sea; the bravado-filled Tengu; Horace, a very old, very wise professor; Baz, who has sharp eyes and instincts; Mab, a tiny being who lives in a dollhouse; and Robert, a ginormous being from the mythological world.
When Willa is brought into their world, she discovers that all of her dreams of monsters and madness are real. There are both good and bad things in the universe, and the bad is trying to push into Willa’s world. Willa must work with the Eldritch citizens to keep her world from going to utter destruction.
This is a classic coming-of-age tale in a lot of ways. With Willa’s parents and Miss Trang out of the picture, Willa has to find her own way to make things work, and thus, grows up and into her true self. I did like what author Kim Thompson did with that, and the thread of how Willa and her mother connect with Eldritch Manor was clever and interesting. I loved the Canadian aspects of the novel, and the characterizations and antics of the Eldritch beings — they squabbled just like children. I loved how Thompson pushed the fantastical to its limits, with the magical elements playing a huge role in the resolution of the story.
What I wanted most from this book, however, was a lot more on the characters/creatures of Eldritch. I wanted a lot more about Horace and Robert and their escapades. After the reveal of the characters’ true natures, I felt a bit robbed of their histories. I was eagerly looking forward to more information on Mab’s adventures, and how Tengu got how he was, and neither of those things were really explored.
I also didn’t love how long the action sequences went on. The latter half of the book didn’t feel like it stopped for a breath at all, and I felt like Willa’s growth as a person was sort of glossed over in favour of more crazy things happening. I didn’t feel like Willa really earned her resolution, and Miss Trang showing her true nature at the last moment seemed like it sort of ripped that resolution away from her.
Overall, I did enjoy the author’s writing style, and the ideas in the story. It’s a fun read, and a great one for the classroom for middle-grade readers. My feeling was just that the ideas and overarching theme of the story could have been fleshed out a little more.
Have you read any good middle-grade fantasy novels lately? What makes them work for you?
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Eldritch Manor from Dundurn Press for review. All opinions are my own.
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