A “found” Russian manuscript recounts a late-19th-century haunting.
Prince Lev Lvov is apprehensive about leaving his beloved mother when he is summoned to St. Petersburg to take up his aristocratic responsibilities in the impossibly cavernous Falcon House. Upon arriving, the dreamy, artistic 12-year-old meets his termagant aunt and an odd assemblage of servants, all of whom remark on Lev’s resemblance to his dead grandfather—in whose creepy study his aunt insists he sleep. Lev is unsettled to discover his hand possessed when he sits down to draw to comfort himself. Those drawings, smudged and torn, provide eerie accompaniment to the text. The mysterious young Vanyousha offers Lev companionship but provokes more questions. Adding a further layer of weirdness, Yelchin positions the story in a “translator’s note” as a document he found as a child. The story is both simple—a ghost story—and as complex as the country it rises from, offering glimpses of Russia’s unique and brutal history in its examination of the institution of serfdom, just recently abolished in Lev’s time, and its exploration of the role of art as a vehicle for liberation. Middle graders unfamiliar with that history will be intrigued by the ghost story and the compelling setting, and explanatory notes both provide context and help to prepare them for such books as Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov (2014) and M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead (2015) later on.
Eerie and effective. (Historical fantasy. 9-13)