by Philip Pullman
Recommended Ages: 11+
The rest of the book recounts the girls' attempt to escape, the count's attempt to get them back, and the confusion that surrounds a shooting contest, a jailbreak, simultaneous visits by a notorious swindler and a tough-minded girls' schoolmistress, and a romantic reunion between their personal servants. It features incompetent policemen, a put-upon landlady, a sniveling stooge, and a cheerfully lifelike wig-stand that comes to be called Herr Woodenkopf. It ends with the discovery of a lost heir, a hilarious scene in which a heroic rogue wins his freedom, and a disturbingly gruesome but well-deserved end for the title character.
I admire almost everything Pullman has written, insofar as I have read it, though not all of it has given me pleasure. He is a writer who pulls no punches. His Sally Lockhart series, for example, plunges so deeply into its heroine's sufferings that I decided to take a break from reading the third novel - and that was about three years ago. One of these days, when I feel ready to take the punishment, I will return to it. He makes you feel for his characters that deeply, even in his lighter works. That's why I like The Scarecrow and His Servant so much; I think it hits the perfect balance between pathos and levity, light and dark. This story comes close to that ideal. Yet even if, for just a moment, it seems just a little too frivolous, that won't stop the count's fate from giving you shivers for a long time after you close the book.