4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Jonah Oblong has just been sacked from his teaching job after he was seen pouring a jug of water over a boy’s head just as the School inspector walked in the classroom. He left Moss Lane Comprehensive very soon after that and was struggling to get another job because of the lack of a reference. He happened to see an avert in the TES for a school in Rotherweird for a history teacher that required nor references. He applied and was offered an interview.
Getting there is not that simple though, he needs to catch a bus to the Twelve-Mile post and wait for a charabanc. So far so strange. He is offered the job on the spot, and lacking any other opportunities, accepts it. He cannot teach any history prior to 1800, and definitely no history about Rotherweird. This place is a part of England that was established back in Elizabethan times to hold Twelve children, gifted far beyond their years and who some thought they were the devil’s spawn; 450 years on it is still bound by its unique set of laws. Learning about its history is banned, but along with Jonah, there is a new guy in town who is there to uncover it for his own personal gain.
The other newcomer is Sir Veronal Slickstone, a rich merchant who has bough a manor house and a wife and sone to show that he is some legitimacy. He is there seeking to uncover the past and to find the objects that will allow him passage into the portals. Change is afoot and it doesn’t spell good news for the townsfolk and countrysiders of Rotherweird.
I liked that it was a richly imagined place that he had created but there were several things that didn’t work for me. It was nestled in an unspecified place in Britain and even though it had some modern items, there were other things that were not allowed in the town that I thought would have permeated from the modern world into Rotherweird. It felt like he based the book on the City of London a place that exists in a parallel to the London that most people know, but has its own set of peculiar laws and traditions and added some well thought out folklorish magic to the town.
Whilst there are two main characters, there are a plethora of others, (so much so that there is a list of them at the front) most with some really strange names. Occasionally it was a struggle to keep up with who was who. My favourite character was Ferensen, a man who was as old as the countryside and who knew things that would terrify most of the residents of the town.
Whilst certain elements of the story worked for me there were other parts that I struggled with. There are layers of plot tangled up in here as well as parallel storylines that do mostly converge as the book reaches its conclusions and it feels that there are things that are here that will be carried onto the next book. Hyddenworld is another book in this vein, but in that book, the otherworldly stuff is draped over certain parts of the very recognisable modern world and stuffed into the dark area that others do not notice. Overall I would recommend it, but it is not going to be for everyone though.