Saturday, September 12, 2009

Review: The Other Book

Womack, Philip (2008). The Other Book
272 pages, 159990201X
Three second summary: Twelve-year-old Edward Pollock, attending boarding school at the ancient and slightly creepy Oldstone Manor, finds himself caught up in an ancient battle over the possession of The Other Book, a “magical tome” that contains immense and terrible powers.
The Other Book has the kind of introduction that grabs you and shakes you until your teeth rattle, and then drops you into the main plot so suddenly that you sort of have to pause and take stock of where you are before continuing on with the rest of the book – the kind of introduction where, should my mother have happened upon it, she almost certainly would have asked me why I was reading something containing descriptions of murdered knights whose “long, curled hair had fallen dead around their shoulders.” Honestly, just listen to this:
…he would have to run past the thing that had once been his father, which now stood in the centre of Great Hall, so drenched in blood that his clothes stuck to his body, grinning, revealing his decaying teeth, his sword ready for the kill…
As an aside, Daddy, I am so, so terribly glad I’ve never had to worry about running past your decaying teeth and kill-ready sword….
And the craziness just keeps coming. We’re talking power-mad ghosts, evil religious figures, omens and portents, prophetic dreams, books that possess their reader, curses, bullies with hearts of gold anger mixed with awesome, a little bit of Sylvia Plath -- not one of my favorite poems, but you can’t have everything -- and, of course, inevitably, Merlin.
(Nothing I love more than Arthurian references. Galahad! Call me!)
To be honest, my biggest complaint with the book was that, for some reason, I had consistent difficulty keeping track of what time period the darn thing took place in. Every time one of the boys would swear, I’d immediately think, “Wait, did they say that a hundred years ago? Wait… is this taking place a hundred years ago? Wait. We’re in modern times.” Perhaps it had something to do with the location – Edward sticks closely to Oldstone Manor, when he’s not being carted off to psychiatric hospitals to have Incorporeal Tomes wrenched from his psyche (Read the book.), and Oldstone Manor is so thoroughly enmeshed with the past that keeping track of specific time periods is fairly irrelevant.
The book is obviously the first in a series – although I enjoyed most of the characters, several of them were definitely not developed as well as one would hope. I assume they will be fleshed out more as the series progresses. And just in case we were worried that no future books were forthcoming, the last five pages see the delivery of “The Jewel of the Scryer” to Edward. His ghostly knight companion explains that “Its uses you shall come to know soon enough.” I’ll take that as a promise, Ghostly Knight.
The Other Book is occasionally stilted and slightly ponderous -- characteristics I have come to expect from an author's debut book. Overall, though, it's deliciously dark and haunted. I may not be waiting for the sequel with bated breath, but I’ll definitely pick up a copy from my local library once it comes out. I’m terribly curious to see if evil can be defeated once and for all – but with a first novel as twisted as this one, I’m not going to bet on it.
Quotes of Note:

“And all that came out, from the massing rush of emotion, were two simple sounds that were to seal his fate for ever: ‘I will.’”
“And then Edward realized that things are not always closed; that there are gaps through which tragedy slides, that there will always be horror seeping in from somewhere.”
Hungry Readers Exclamatory Rating: !!!

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