This dense and twisty fantasy set in post–World War I Great Britain mixes monstrous creatures, sibling rivalry, a supernatural doppelgänger, family dysfunction and a kidnapping into a complex brew of eerie atmosphere and unexpected events.
Hardinge is a master stylist whose imaginative works resemble one another only in the consistently impressive quality of her writing. Each narrative builds a unique world, and this combination of postwar tristesse and scary magical beings known as Besiders is no different. Evocative descriptions of the parallel settings, sharply drawn characters and fast-paced action pull readers along, though some may occasionally be distracted rather than transported by the heavy use of metaphor. Freakish actions and confusion on the part of the main character set the stage for an unsettling revelation a quarter of the way through that adds even more suspense and challenges readers' ability to empathize. While sisters Triss and Penelope are 11 and 9, the dangers they face and the issues their family grapples with suggest that readers slightly older than the protagonists will be best equipped to sort through the murky motivations, painful betrayals and matter-of-factly presented alternate reality.
Nuanced and intense, this painstakingly created tale mimics the Escher-like constructions of its villainous Architect, fooling the eyes and entangling the emotions of readers willing and able to enter into a world like no other. (Fantasy. 11-14)