Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Monsters of Rookhaven - Pádraig Kenny

One of the bonuses of working in a bookshop is the range and quantity of books that come your way - there is a considerable expectation to read and for me, it's also an expectation to widen my reading into more stuff by contemporary writers. 'The Monsters of Rookhaven' is a children's book (9-12 year age range) and also one of our books of the month. I wouldn't normally have picked it up, but it was sitting in the staff room and once I started I really wanted to see it through.

As I'm still struck down by a hideous cold (my voice has almost completely gone today) the 9-12 years reading range was also just about right for the level of concentration I could muster. It's a testament to the quality of the book that I finished it in an evening. The range of children's books has come on in leaps and bounds since I was a child, and even since my much younger brother and sister were this age. There were great books around then, just nothing like the choice we have now.

The monsters of Rookhaven are a family who live on an estate hidden from the world by a magical glamour. The only people who know about them are the local villagers with whom they have a covenant - they'll stay inside their estate in return for food. It's an arrangement that's worked well for hundreds of years until the magic wears thin and a couple of desperate children find themselves on the wrong side of the glamour. After that things start to get complicated.

It's a smart and funny book about family, love, right, and wrong. The concept of who and what is monstrous keeps shifting, the tension ramps up nicely, the book is complete in itself, but there are plenty of things left to explore in further installments of the series. It's set just after the second world war which gives the perfect opportunity to explore how grief affects people, and families as a whole, in a way that feels natural. 

I really liked the main characters - Mirabelle who is subtly different to her family and doesn't understand why. Jem and Tom, the children who find themselves in this strange new world - especially Tom whose behaviour is so often morally compromised but who's doing the best he can for his sister. The friendship this trio forms feels natural too, they're all outcasts of one sort or another. 

The threat that comes for Mirabelle and her family is genuinely scary, the more so because it's evil at its most plausible and underneath its monstrous trapping all too easy to believe in. Uncle Enoch, the family patriarch is a satisfying character too. He has difficult decisions to make and maybe my favourite thing about the book is the way that Kenny breaks these down for us. Altogether recommended for the younger readers in your life and for anyone who feels really grotty and wants a slightly gothic distraction from their cold based woes. 

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