Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf is a new series by the very talented duo of author Paul Stewart and illustrator Chris Riddell. This is the team who brought us the Far-Flung Adventures for third grade level readers and the Edge Chronicles for fifth grade reading level and up.
The Barnaby Grimes series falls nicely between these two. Written at a fourth grade reading level, this series is set in turn of the century London and is full of curiosities, like high stacking, tick-tock lads and cordials as well as host of British names that trip over the tongue, Cadwallader and Jolyon, to name a few.
While the Edge Chronicles and the Far-Flung Adventures take place in wonderfully described, detail-laden imaginary worlds that are populated by fictional creatures and odd human beings, Barnaby Grimes' story takes place in a real city, albeit one that is equally laden with details and creatures, all of which, except for one or two, are factually based.
At its heart, this book is a mystery and a thriller, and it has a fair amount of blood and violence befitting its subject and time - werewolves and the Industrial Revolution, or thereabouts. Stewart takes as much care describing the the poorer and the poorest neighborhoods in London and their inhabitants as he does the werewolves and their rampages through the city. His eye for minutiae that made his imaginary worlds so totally livable in the Edge and Far-Flung series is used here to draw you into the grimy, smelly streets of the Wasp's Nest and the East Bank along with Barnaby, who, as a tick-tock lad, delivers messages all over the city.
While high stacking one evening, high stacking being the habit of climbing onto the top of a building in order to jump from roof to roof, clinging to chimney stacks as you go, Barnaby is attacked by a great grey wolf. Despite a horrible burn on his shoulder from a hot chimney pot, he manages to evade the wolf and send him crashing through a skylight and into a vat of glue, boiling away in a glue factory below. From that night on, he winds his way through a series of clients, clues and curative cordials that lead him to discover the genesis of the night wolf, the real purpose of Dr. Cadwallader's Cordial and the source of the luxurious Westphalian fur that is being used to trim the collars and cuffs of the fashionable swells and fine ladies of London.
I am a huge fan of the works of Stewart and Riddell, as well as a lover of all things British, so this book was a genuine treat for me. While I am not such a huge a fan of creatures like werewolves and the havoc they wreak, there was so much else going on in the story, from the descriptions of the characters Barnaby encounters to the gritty details of life for the lower classes, that I was entertained and riveted from the start. While this strikes me as mostly a book for boys, I think it will have cross over appeal, as do the other series by Stewart and Riddell.
Older readers who enjoyed this should not miss the Edge Chronicles, and younger readers, especially those with an interest in crazy inventions, should definitely check out the the Far-Flung Adventures. Reviews of the trilogy and individual books can be read here.
If your daughter likes this book, I strongly recommend the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer, the first of which is The Case of the Missing Marquess. Springer imagines that Sherlock Holmes' mother has a daughter, Enola, very late in life. Because of the eccentricities of her mother, which really turn out out be proto-feminist ideas about independence for women, Enola does not know her brother, but knows of him. When her mother disappears on Enola's fourteenth birthday, she sets out to follow the cryptic clues left behind and ends up on the trail of a missing Viscount as well. Springer evokes the period beautifully and creates a timid but sympathetic character in Enola, who evolves nicely over the course of the book, which ends with her setting up her own investigative agency, posing as the secretary but doing all the work on her own. There are currently four books in this series, the fifth due out in 2009.
What Other Bloggers Are Saying:
Teens Read Too: "The story combines mystery, history, horror, action-adventure, and the paranormal into a perfectly scary story for tweens. The black and white drawings add a chilling effect to the story. The characters are brilliantly drawn and the villain is perfectly evil." (read more...)
Books & Other Thoughts: "The illustrations were a wonderful accompaniment to the text, making the book appear extremely spookier than it actually is (and thus, one hopes, encouraging many devotees of "horror" fiction like the Goosebumps series to branch out and take a chance on something new)." (read more...)
Saundra Mitchell: "Stewart and Riddell have brilliantly captured the breathless excitement of pulp novels and penny dreadfuls." (read more...)
Interview with Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell: Yatterings
- Reading level: Ages 9-12
- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: David Fickling Books (September 9, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385751257
- ISBN-13: 978-0385751254
- Source: Review copy from publisher