An overwrought fairy tale within a fairy tale.
Twelve-year-old Vincent, “he of the fair skin and the sad eyes, the disheveled hair and the honest smile,” has spent the last two years in an orphanage, ever since the total destruction of his home by a dragon. When the news of his grandfather’s death comes, the orphanage director refuses to let him attend the funeral but does hand him a mysterious book that his grandfather left him. The book recounts the strange adventures of another boy named Vincent, cursed by a witch. From there, chapters alternate between the two stories. Vincent No. 1 runs away to attend the funeral but is foiled by a snowstorm and a gang of murderers; Vincent No. 2 becomes trapped by a giant, escapes on a magical horse and eventually defeats an evil dwarf and then the witch herself—and finds a magical world quite a bit like heaven, too. It seems the real world and the book world are meant to gradually intersect, but the “real” world, with its bleak, Aiken-esque orphanage and marauding dragons, is too unreal for contrast. Fantastic elements appear without warning or logic, and none of the characters ascend beyond stereotypes. The two Vincents in particular seem to react rather than act. The passive, omniscient narration seems designed to throw the affected language into jarring relief.“Some tales are worth telling,” opens the narrator—readers may feel this isn’t one of them. (Fantasy. 8-11)