In Allen’s debut YA adventure, a brother and sister must survive the horrors of their mystical ancestral home and the haunted gardens that surround it.
Lily Blackwood and her brother, Silas, live a transient life as actors in their family’s low-budget stage show, an awkward steppingstone that Lily believes will one day lead her to fame and the adoration of crowds. Lily’s dreams crumble when her uncle Jonquil, a mysterious, rough-looking man draped in a wolf fur, kidnaps her and her brother and delivers them to their family’s original home—the otherworldly Nightfall Gardens—a preternatural land where creatures of myths and fairy tales are both real and deadly. It’s Lily’s birthright and curse to become the new matriarch of this estate, to guard and maintain it, and to keep the darkness of the gardens contained. While she is quarantined inside the house, timid Silas is sent into the gardens as the mystical groundskeeper’s new assistant. The knowledge he gains among the arboreal evil, when combined with his sister’s defiant ambition for a life beyond Nightfall’s gates, leaves the children poised to challenge the dark fate that has descended upon them. Allen’s novel starts swiftly, bringing Lily and Silas into the spectacle and danger of Nightfall as quickly as possible, then the pace slows to a pleasant amble to adequately highlight each gruesome experience. The novel thrives when depicting the bizarre and dangerous: cocoon-sleeping slug women; mummy butlers that are falling apart; vengeful corpse eaters; and even the heroes’ closest ally, a green-skinned tomboy. Still, with so much focus on frightening imagery, the novel doesn’t build much suspense, leaning more toward the gross than the scary. This is not necessarily a flaw. Many YA novels aren’t looking to utterly terrify their readers, and intriguing mysteries and foreshadowed threats for the Blackwood children in the second volume easily offset any flagging tension.
The beginning of a Harry Potter–esque series for those who prefer gross-out horror to magical whimsy.