This fellow would be my hero, and his name would be Iremonger, he’d live with his huge and malevolent family but he’d be different to them, he wouldn’t quite fit in.
–Edward Carey, on his main character Clod Iremonger
Right at the centre of the Heaps, in a compound of discarded trash that surrounds the big city of London, lies Heap House, where the Iremongers live. They are a big, vast family with peculiarities and strict, ordained rules, one of which is that each Iremonger is given a birth object by their patriarch; those objects become their closest and most treasured possession.
The trilogy opener, Heap House, introduces us to our heroes, Clod and Lucy. Clod is a young, yet-to-be trousered Iremonger who has an odd condition: he can hear the birth objects whispering—but they only say names. His own universal bath plug constantly says “James Henry Hayward.” Unsettled by this but groomed by his family as a special child, the truth of the birth objects soon becomes clear. And it’s horrifying. But maybe not so much for the Iremongers.
Lucy Pennant is a poor teenager from Foulsham, brought to Heap House against her will to become one of the lower, nameless Iremongers.
Against all odds, Lucy and Clod fall hopelessly in love with each other. Then Lucy turns into a button and Clod into a Sovereign crown and both are thrown out of Heap House.
And this is only the beginning of their adventures which culminates with the whole family having to leave a destroyed Heap House after the events in book two, Foulsham, bringing their weirdness to London where the epidemic of people-turning-into-objects is spreading.
The Iremonger Trilogy is one of the most creative, imaginative series I have ever read. The final book, Lungdon, was recently published and, to my delight, it completes this trilogy with resounding success. Here are some of the reasons why I highly recommend it:
The storytelling happens in increments, ever-expanding from Book One to Three—first, a house, then a borough, then a city—collapsing back to where it all started as Lungdon comes to a close. It’s an incredibly clever narrative conceit that comes full circle but ultimately leaves things off at a different, better place.
The weirdness and unique qualities of the Iremongers are explored well without being info-dumped. They are malignant without being caricatures of evil, and some Iremongers are interesting people indeed.
Clod and Lucy are great protagonists whose voices are distinctive and strong. Lucy, the non-Iremonger, is the voice of the common people, of those who have been treated like trash. Clod is the one grappling with questions of identity—wwhat does it mean to “be an Iremonger?” Especially one with special powers? In many ways Clod is also a non-Iremonger.
The narrative goes beyond their viewpoints though: the book is peppered with other narrators, newspaper clippings, diaries, posters.
The question of identity is super important and names have power here—in the whispering of their own, the birth objects retain some of their humanity.
Another important theme is related to being “tossed out,” thrown away, and treated like nothing. The borough of Foulsham in the outskirts of London, where all the trash goes, knows about this far too well.
The books have amazingly beautiful illustrations by the author, which are used with great effect as part of the storytelling.
Grisly and utterly original, The Iremonger Trilogy goes straight onto my keeper shelf.
In Book Smugglerish: 8 for the completed trilogy.