Children are an endangered species in Hangman’s Hollow, a town under siege from dark and malevolent forces in this first book of a planned trilogy.
Ten-year-old orphan Pip is sent to be a cabin boy on a pirate ship, but he escapes and finds himself in Hangman’s Hollow, a place where children can be caught and imprisoned by either the town guards or by the forest creatures, for various nefarious purposes. He is taken in and hidden by a kind and brave tavern keeper who is also hiding his own son. What follows is a confusing and illogical series of misadventures involving child catchers, wood witches, a live wooden toy soldier, malevolent crows and a host of other creatures. It’s dystopian and supernatural, with deliberate Dickensian elements that will likely fly over the heads of the intended audience. To succeed, fantasy needs a structure on which to build the magic, but that is entirely lacking here. None of the characters are fully formed, and there is no rhyme or reason to their actions. There’s “an almost happy ending,” but nothing is explained or resolved. Highly detailed black-and-white illustrations are appropriately dark and spooky. Several are placed in a series of panels similar to a graphic novel, which might be a better choice of format for this material.
Confusion reigns. (Fantasy.8-12)