Historical fiction and magical realism meld in this haunting story set during World War I.
Fifteen-year-old Adi, the green-eyed, brown-skinned, and dark-haired daughter of a British father and an Indian mother, leaves her home in India to escort her twin 10-year-old half brothers to her British grandmother in Europe. She unknowingly ruins the well-laid plans of the sinister shape-shifter Coal…and now he is exacting his revenge. He kidnaps the twins, gives her a watch with four riddles that she must decode to find them, and warns her that she must also remain silent—no talking, no writing—and find them before the watch runs down…or else! As Adi, disguised as a French soldier, tries to solve the riddles around Europe during the chaos and conflicts of the Great War, an interesting variety of people comes together to help or hinder her. Historical details are mostly restricted to Adi’s circumstances, and a deep knowledge of World War I is not necessary to enjoy this story. Although some details remain unresolved, it is Coal, with his disturbing habits, dramatic history, and cryptic motivations, who rises to amaze and shock throughout the book, and protagonist Adi fails to match up to him.
Although the antagonist overshadows the protagonist, this World War I story is nevertheless a dark and memorable one. (Magical realism/historical fiction. 12 & up)