Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Monsters and Marvels

Wishingrad, Alyssa. Between Monsters and Marvels
September 12, 2023 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dare lives in a small island village of Barrow's Bay in the early 1900s with her parents. Her father is a  monster hunter, but since monsters haven't been seen in a number of years, he has become a subject of ridicule. When he is violently killed, Dare knows that monsters were responsible, but the official story is that it was a random stranger, and that the man is in custody. The local governor takes an interest in Dare's mother, and the two are soon married. Dare dreads the idea of living in his mansion, but she needn't worry; she is soon shipped off to the big city on the mainland to live with an eccentric aunt of her father's. On the ramshackle ship there, she meets Tupper, who is in charge of her while they are sailing, and who shows up a lot when she is in the city as well, and proves to be very helpful. Madam Emily Nesbitt ran a theater that has fallen on hard times, thanks in part to the newfangled monster themed shows of Padgett's Palace, which she views as "crass entertainments". With her aunt involved in her own financial miseries and headaches, Dare finds herself spending a lot of time at Padgett's, where she is befriended by Nell, a popular performer, and Gil, a mysterious boy who seems to come to her rescue at overly convenient times. She also has a pet chinchilla that she has found who is similar to her aunt's pet, Beastie. While Padgett's monsters are all illusion, Dare is troubled by visions and feelings of her own. Not only that, but Nell's mother gives her a muff made out of the fur of a Fexin, a fox-shaped monster with deadly claws. There are horrible secrets grimy city, and Dare is faced with trying to figure out how to view her father's past, and how to reconcile her own views of whether creatures are monsters, or marvels. 
Strengths: There are a lot of twists and turns that I don't want to spoil, but Dare's deep dive into the mysteries of City-on-the-Pike and it's seedy industrial underbelly is an interesting adventure with surprisingly psychological depth. I love books like Delaney's Revenge of the Witch where I'm not quite entirely sure who the good characters and bad characters are, and while Dare thinks she knows her way around the monsters of her culture, she has a lot to learn. There's just enough history to give this an interesting flair, and lots of richly developed side characters to support Dare in her quest. Gil is an intriguing character with quite a secret. There's plenty of danger and adventure to keep readers turning the pages to find out the answers to Dare's many questions.
Weaknesses: Dare is a demanding and forthright character who will appeal to younger readers, but I just wanted her to comb her hair and stop ripping her clothing! 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who crave Edwardian era monster tales with a seaside setting, like Taylor's Malamander, Snicket's All the Wrong Questions series, or Nichols' The Apprentice Witch duology, or who enjoyed Wishingrad's first book, The Verdigris Pawn. There are not as many middle grade books involving monsters as you would think, and this is a good addition to those titles. This also reminded me a bit of the works of the late, great Barbara Brooks Wallace, like Cousins in the Castle and The Ghosts in the Gallery

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed The Verdigris Pawn and Edwardian stories with monsters sound fun, so I might check this one out. Thanks for the review! :)