A child’s nightmare odyssey through an alternate world inspired by the darkest aspects of fairy tales.
The Irish thriller-writer (The Black Angel, 2005, etc.) breaks new ground with this extravagant fantasy. Twelve-year-old David is a Londoner who has inherited his mother’s love of myths and fairy tales; when she dies of an unnamed disease, he takes her loss hard. And it gets worse. His father falls for Rose, the administrator of his mother’s hospice; she bears him a son, Georgie. David dislikes them both. When war breaks out (it’s 1939), they move to Rose’s house outside London. David’s bedroom is haunted by a notorious trickster, the Crooked Man, known for stealing children. When he hears his mother’s voice calling for help, he wriggles through a hole in the brickwork and finds himself in a forest. Right away, he spots two corpses. One belongs to a German aviator, the other to an animal wearing clothes. Luckily, the first living human he meets is the well-disposed Woodsman. He tells David the animal was a Loup, half-wolf, half-human; the mother of the first Loup, Leroi, was Little Red Riding Hood. (Be prepared for other perverse fairy-tale variants.) Leroi is plotting to displace the feeble old king; his chief adversary is the Crooked Man. The only good news is that the king’s greatest resource, the Book of Lost Things, may show David the way home. So man and boy begin their journey to the castle. Dangers abound. Wolves and Loups are on their trail. Evil trolls guard a bridge across a canyon, while fanged harpies cruise below. The Woodsman is chased off by wolves, and David must use all his smarts to avoid various grisly ends. There’s a nod to his coming-of-age, but graphic violence is the come-on, enough to sate the most bloodthirsty appetite. Connolly doesn’t know when to stop—by the end, the punch-drunk reader is past caring about the ultimate winner or David’s fate.
A robust storyteller loses his way.