Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rising from the dead to review the Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

Okay, not exactly dead, but buried in my WIP, BREAKING GLASS, nearly done at 242 pages. I've just been SO ENGROSSED, I hope you'll all forgive me.

I'd promised long ago to review Ellen Potter's KNEEBONE BOY and now I am going to keep half my promise—I'm having a guest blogger, my brilliant and generous critique-mate of five years, Cyndy Kennedy Henzel do the review. When Cyndy told me that she, too was as big fan of this rather unheralded book from 2010, I asked her if she'd like to do the review for my blog. She did and hear it is:


by Cynthia Kennedy Henzel

I love surprise endings, and Ellen Potter’s KNEEBONE BOY delivered. The Hardscrabble children, Otto, Lucia, and Max, set off to stay with their cousin in London. When they discover she has gone on holiday, they find their way to their great-aunt’s, who lives in a miniature castle behind a sinister real castle once owned by the Kneebone family. Here, the story falls into the pattern of a semi-fantasy as they discover the morbid history of the castle then face dragons, secret passages, and other fantastical elements as they try to rescue the Kneebone heir locked in a castle tower.

THE KNEEBONE BOY, however, is not a fantasy. Or an adventure. Or a mystery. It is more the tale of a dysfunctional family with a dark secret. The father takes periodic trips to paint portraits of displaced royalty. The oldest son Otto, 13, hasn’t spoken since their mother mysteriously left five years earlier, and the great-aunt is wildly wacky.

The reader is lulled into complacency by the Lemony-Snicketish voice of the narrator, one of the children but which one is never identified, into accepting the characters and events that unfold as normal. This works wonderfully to disguise what is actually happening; the clues to the surprise ending are all masterfully planted. However, since the story is told in the past tense, the voice is somewhat jarring at the finale. We are surprised, maybe even shocked, but it is difficult to be empathetic. The narrator also tends to pause to tell the reader something is going to happen; a device that tends to pull the reader from the plot and doesn’t seem really necessary.

I’ll admit I was tempted to put the book down halfway through, thinking that it was just another tale of wacky characters off to visit the wacky relative in the mysterious house and having a somewhat silly adventure. It is not. Keep reading. It is a masterfully plotted story. You will be thinking about this book for a long time.