After running away to a Coney Island “Freak Show,” Houdini’s niece gets drawn into an apocalyptic battle with an occultist and his evil minions in this YA novel.
In Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island (2015), Herdling (Deadpool Classic Omnibus, 2015, etc.) introduced his plucky, redheaded heroine, who grew up in orphanages before going to live with her famous uncle, Erich Weiss (aka the great stage magician Harry Houdini). After some complicated adventures, supernatural and otherwise, Piper ran away to Coney Island’s Dreamland Circus Sideshow. Now it’s the summer of 1926, and Piper, nearly 13, is thrilled to live and work with her family of sideshow “freaks”—a term of endearment among them: “It’s just another way of calling us unique,” says Johnny “Half-Boy” Hart. Piper reunites with her Creole friend, Sal, and his brother, a zombie, who joins the sideshow as “Punchinello the Painless Man.” But the performers are in danger from Dr. Roy Crandon, a surgeon who performs grotesque experiments at the bidding of Aleister Crowley (the famous, real-life occultist), who’s possessed by the demon Choronzon. Piper investigates her own true identity, following clues such as an H.P. Lovecraft story that was ghostwritten for Harry Houdini. Meanwhile, Crowley engineers Piper’s participation in a ceremony meant to help demons possess humankind, leading to a dramatic, supernatural confrontation involving Piper’s friends, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s daughter. As with the first book, Herdling combines period detail—such as flappers, speak-easies, Rudolph Valentino, and spiritualists—with an engaging heroine and Lovecraft-ian supernatural horrors into a nonstop action adventure. However, it leaves little time to consider the characters and their relationships or for events to have much impact on them or for significant realizations to sink in. That said, the book still retains an underlying emphasis on friendships and family relationships, no matter how oddly assorted they may be, and this offers a good, important counterpoint to all the supernatural weirdness. Herdling also has a good ear for dialogue and 1920s slang, adding a note of fun to the dark, occult shenanigans.
Somewhat overpacked but still highly entertaining.