In McEvoy’s debut YA adventure, two American kids discover more than they’d bargained for when they’re sent to live with their great-aunt in Australia.
When the parents of 10-year-old Sarah McGuire and her slightly older brother, Nickolas, are seriously injured in a car accident, the kids want to go live with their grandmother, Vera. However, a sour social worker, Ms. Grey, determines that Vera isn’t fit to take care of them, and improbably awards custody to their next-of-kin, Vera’s sister, Vivian, who lives in Sydney, Australia. There had always been something strange about Vivian’s family; for example, Vera owned an invisible dog named Sparks ever since she was a girl, which no one but she could see; she eventually gave him to Sarah, who could see him as well. When Sarah and Nickolas arrive at Vivian’s mansion, the servants also see Sparks and recognize him. When the kids finally meet Vivian in person, she looks no older than 25. Soon after, the children discover a statue in Vivian’s garden which turns out to be the imprisoned form of a muse named Audiva, whom they accidentally restore to life. Audiva informs them that the ancient Greek myths had it wrong: There are far more than nine muses, and Vivian has had 14 of them trapped in her garden as statues for years. This extremely inventive, unusual YA story has an intriguing central mystery and relatable protagonists. However, as the plot unfolds, its strange mélange of mythology and science fiction doesn’t always fit together effortlessly; for example, the characters’ seeming immortality doesn’t have an explanation that’s as interesting as the tantalizing early chapters promise. That said, the prose has an easy, comfortable tone that young readers should find appealing. Vivian is a strong, eerily monstrous villain, reminiscent of Mrs. Coulter in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and the fictional world, while unlikely, is filled with good-natured imagination and heart.
Older readers may scratch their heads at some story elements, but 10- to 12-year-olds will eat this fantasy tale up.