Yes, I know. I’m quite late in reviewing this, and I bet I’m the last person to do so. But I’m nothing if not honest and I’m writing a post about this book as part of my promotion of superb MG books that are not by David Walliams. It was only a matter of (not much) time before I started waving this one tantalisingly in front of my class with the promise that it was dark – dark enough that I (loudly) considered not letting them have it.
However, you can recommend a book to kids, but unless that book is earth-shatteringly good, those kids will never listen to you again, and then you’re are trapped in teacher/librarian/bookseller purgatory. Thankfully my soul is safe. And after using a passage from this book as the subject of a creative writing lesson on writing action scenes, it looks like I’m going to have to get a couple more copies for the classroom (because they’re not getting my signed copy).
I loved this book because of the nature of the evil in the story. The Tenebrous exist in an in between place between this world and another using shadows to bridge the gap, in order to feed off the misery of humans (especially kids of course), and generally wreak havoc. I love them because they are undeniably scary. Rudden captures what he calls “a fundamental wrongness” to the way they look and move which is hard to pin down and yet deeply unnerving. More effective still is that fact that they are properly, mass-destructive and lethally dangerous. There’s no daring-do hero leaping between the clichéd hap-hazard blows of some blundering monster. These things take no prisoners – except when they do, then it’s a building full of orphans whom they gleefully torment and suck the life from. Aside from that, there’s this feeling that a character is alway seconds from dismemberment throughout the book. Even the adult mentor figures, the Knights that stand between blissfully ignorant people and violent annhialation, however skilled, are often absolutely terrified.
Which brings me to the main character, Denizen. He’s not quite your typical orphan, plucked from monotony to learn about a noble heritage and a grand heroic destiny, which he accepts bravely and graciously. He’s suspicious, sceptical, and spends most of the start of the book being pants-wettingly scared. His sass would give Harry Potter a run for his money. He is righteously angry and resentful upon learning the reasons why he was abandoned to spend his childhood in an orphanage, and expresses this in explosive magical thirteen-year-old style. In other words, he’s a real boy! Comment if, like me, you read that in his voice.
Another thing I really, deeply appreciated the concept of power involving a sacrifice, a negative and irreversible side-effect. Gone are the days when readers of any age will buy into the idea of someone just getting away with having awesome powers, especially if they’re the good guys. The effects of “the cost” in KOTBD makes me cringe every time one of the Knights uses their power. The nature of the sacrifice these characters make renders them irresistibly lovable – even the Malleus herself, who makes Judi Dench look like a kitten.
Lastly, and most importantly for me anyway, the quality of the writing is something that you don’t see that often in modern MG anymore. It makes deeply descriptive but smooth reading, effortlessly conveying darkness, danger, humour and tragedy within the confines of an age category some would mistakenly call restrictive. This is my favourite book of 2016, and the UNESCO City of Literature’s pick for Dublin for 2017.
In other words, if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?