Replete with engaging figurative language and literary allusions to works ranging from the Bible to Paradise Lost, Auxier’s creepy Victorian ghost story is an allegory on greed and the power of stories.
Fourteen-year-old Molly and her younger brother, Kip, orphans fleeing the Irish famine, seek work in England. The destitute siblings become servants at the Windsor estate, at the center of which is a decrepit house entwined with a huge and sinister tree. Although warned that this place contains something ominous that changes people, they are unprepared for the evil they encounter. The master, mistress and their two children grow pale and thin; their eyes and hair blacken. Entering the forbidden room at the top of the stairs, Molly finds a knothole in the tree—a knothole that produces whatever one wishes for (money, jewels, sweets). The price is a piece of the petitioner’s soul. Muddy footprints and dead leaves in the house attest to an evil nocturnal visitor, the titular Night Gardener, who wipes the sweat of fear from their nightmare-ridden brows to water the tree. In a heart-stopping climax, Molly and Kip attempt to stop this specter and the ancient curse.
Lots of creepiness, memorable characters, a worthy message, Arrasmith’s atmospheric drawings and touches of humor amid the horror make this cautionary tale one readers will not soon forget. (Fantasy. 10-14)