Warning: There might be minor spoilers in this review. More like scenes I found amusing yet don’t give away the ending, but I’m warning you just in case.
“High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the loss of his mother. He is angry and he is alone, with only the books on his shelf for company.
But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness…”
I’m not sure why I seem to be on a kick where the main characters of the books I read are all young boys whose mothers have just died, but here we are. I’ve had The Book of Lost Things on my “To Read This Year” list for, I don’t know, approximately 4 years. And I’ve had the book in my possession that whole time, so I really have no idea why I didn’t actually pick it up until this week. But I’m so glad I finally did. Here’s the cover:
Solidly enticing, if you’re the sort who judges a book by its cover. Which: I kinda am. Sometimes. I can’t help it! It’s not that I won’t read a book just because it had a bad cover, but I’m more likely to pick up a book if it’s cool-looking, and don’t even pretend you aren’t the same.
The basic premise (without giving away any major plot points) is thus: David, a young boy living in World War II-era England, is not only dealing with life during the war, but also the death of his mother to cancer and the subsequent remarrying of his father and the birth of a new baby brother. Plus, the family is uprooted from London to the country to escape the constant German bombing, so it’s a lot for a boy to deal with all at once.
He’s kind of a funny kid. A little odd, and a little bit of a loner. He takes solace in books and the fairy tales his mother used to tell him. Then one day the books began talking to him—and a sketchy character called the Crooked Man begins appearing in his dreams. Next thing you know, a German bomber has crash-landed in the backyard as David is out there, sending him flying (no pun intended) into another world, where he desperately tries to find his way to the kingdom’s castle so the king can send him back home.
But the Crooked Man has other plans—and all is not as it seems.
The world he ends up has a lot of a familiar characters—the Big Bad Wol(ves), the Woodsman, Snow White, the Seven Dwarves, Goldilocks, a mysterious king, a knight heading off to rescue a sleeping woman in a tower—but they are all just slightly (very) different than what David (and the reader) remembers from the stories.
And that is what makes this book awesome.
I won’t touch too much on what happens when he reaches the castle and finds the king, because it’s hard to talk about without giving away the whole plot. But I will talk about the cast of characters, because these aren’t your mother’s fairy tale characters, and I found the changes to be rather genius (and sometimes hilarious).
Still, if you don’t want to know anything about the plot, stop now. Go read it. Come back. Read this. Tell me what you think.
For those of you who are okay with some discussion that doesn’t give away the plot, proceed!
So, when David ends up in this weird new land, there are a lot of differences from the fairy tales he remembers. Everything is a lot more sinister. He first comes across the Woodsman, who rescues him from the Big Bad Wolves—yes, I said wolves. As in plural. Because in a unique twist that I enjoyed, the Big Bad Wolves in this world are half-human/half-canine creatures called Loups—who came into being thanks to a sinister Red Riding Hood (who doesn’t make a real time appearance, just gets a mention), and well…there’s no delicate way to say this: she gets it on with a wolf.
The products of this unholy union are the Loups: wolves who have the intelligence of men and walk upright and dress like men but have the instincts of wolves and are pretty evil and scary and trying to take over the whole kingdom and definitely want to eat David. Pretty cool bad guy(s) honestly.
To be fair, it’s not totally Red Riding Hood’s fault they exist. But I won’t get into that cause it’s a pretty major spoiler.
David knows he has to get to the King so he can get back to his world, and he’s helped along by first the Woodsman and then a knight named Roland who is searching for a tower with a woman cursed to sleep forever trapped inside it—but like everyone else, Roland isn’t quite what he seems. His reason for wanting to get to the tower turn out not to have anything to do with his need to rescue the sleeping maiden and everything to do with tracking down his erstwhile love: another knight named Rafael who went on a quest for the tower to prove himself. Honestly, the whole thing was kind of great. Kind of. But again, no spoilers.
Along the way through his journey, David will also encounter trolls (literally guarding a bridge and also fighting off harpies, who really are in the wrong myth, which David notes because he’s a smart kid.) There are sundry other Beasts and Baddies, plus regular ol’ village people (not the YMCA kind but equally as annoying). But my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE characters were the seven dwarves—or should I say, the Comrade Brothers. Because yes, my friends, the dwarves are Marxists, fighting the man. And by the man, they mean Snow White. Who is a gluttonous tyrant who basically holds them hostage and oh, by the way, it turns out it was the dwarves who tried to kill her with the apple. They then blamed it on the Evil Queen, but oops, they forgot to check her alibi, and she wasn’t even in town so they definitely got caught. And now they are stuck with Snow, who’s really awful, as they dig dig dig dig dig dig the whole day through—stockpiling diamonds so they can one day make their escape and help the other creatures of the kingdom overthrow the capitalist system. It’s so great. So great. I was literally lol-ing the whole time the dwarves were on the scene. An excerpt:
“So you mean you tried to poison Snow White?”
“We just wanted her to nod off for a while,” said Brother Number Two.
“But why?” said David
“You’ll see,” said Brother Number One. “Anyway, we feed her an apple: chomp-chomp, snooze-snooze, weep-weep, “poor Snow White, we will miss her but life goes on.” We lay her out on a slab, surround her with flowers and little weeping bunny rabbits, you know, all the trimmings, then along comes a bloody prince and kisses her. We don’t even have a prince around here. He just appeared out of nowhere on a bleeding white horse. Next you know he’s climbed off and he’s onto Snow White like a whippet down a rabbit hole. Don’t know what he thought he was doing, gadding about randomly kissing strange women who happened to be sleeping at the time.”
“Pervert,” said Brother Number Three “Ought to be locked up.”
…I just cannot. I’m still dying, the dwarves are so great. In fact, I’m going to end with them, I think, because I can’t really get into the reasons David ends up in this crazy world or the whole deal with the King or the real truth being the Loups or what’s up with the Crooked Man without majorly spoiling the whole thing.
…Can you guess his name?
I will say this. The Crooked Man is one of the most terrifying characters I’ve encountered in literature.
So, to sum up: I really really liked this book. There is a small part almost at the end that I found unnecessarily tragic, but the very end makes up for it just enough to leave me with an overall good feeling. So: this one is a highly recommend!