Monday, December 26, 2016

Darkling Green

Darkling Green
by Kim Thompson
Recommended Ages: 12+

Willa Fuller, on the cusp of age 13, doesn't have much in common with other kids her age. Instead, she spends most of her free time at Eldritch Manor, a retirement home for magical creatures, including her wheelchair-bound mermaid grandmother Belle. This also distances Willa from her parents a bit, since her mother has never forgiven Belle for abandoning her and Grandpa when she was a girl. Tensions have started to ease since the old-folks' home has started to be rebuilt (by dwarf labor, of course) following a fire resulting from a deadly conflict with the dark side - don't ask, it's a long story - and now that Belle has moved out of the Fuller home and back into the manor. But as Willa explores strange powers she has only recently begun to discover in herself, she learns something that threatens to drive a rift between her and her mother.

Meantime, things at Eldritch Manor are unusual, as usual. Mab, queen of the backyard fairies, receives an unwanted romantic visit from her alienated husband Oberon, bringing stormy weather upon the neighborhood. The disruption in Mab's knitting of the time-scarf that keeps the manor anchored in reality leads, first, to the discovery of two portals in time at the bottom of the home's algae-covered swimming pool, which Willa can only explore after she overcomes her terror of water and embraces her mermaid side. The time problem also leads to the arrival of a big, hairy, black spider with super knitting skills - though her fancy stitchery has its own weird effect on the passage of time. And then there is the vine growing out of one of those underwater time holes; its foliage rapidly spreads, taking over the forest behind the manor, and gradually forming a humanoid figure similar to one that keeps showing up in Willa's scariest dreams.

At first, these problems seem to be only part of the usual unusualness of a place inhabited by a forgetful sphinx, a centaur, a phoenix, a cat in human form, a shape-shifting dragon who gets grouchy when her hibernation is disturbed, nine dwarves with unpronounceable names, several heavily armed bunnies, loads of capricious fairies, and a martial-arts maven who has adopted a baby basilisk as his pet. It's a place where rooms change size based on what's going on inside them, where the attic stays up in the air even before the second and third floor are built under it, and where the pool is sometimes just a pool, but sometime seems to be part of a much bigger ocean. As the whimsical, everyday problems of such a magic-soaked place gradually build to a climax of danger, and an evil plot threatens everyone, Willa must discover her place in an enchanted world that only she can save.

This is a funny, heartwarming book touched with breathtaking glimpses of magical beauty and beautiful magic. Well-crafted to appeal to middle-school-aged readers, it conceals a firm grounding in mature realism and a concern for the coming of age of a strong, independent young woman. There are touches of neo-paganism in it, such as the depiction of a neighboring family celebrating Beltane - so I declare an Occult Content Advisory. But Willa's willing acceptance of mythological creatures in the ordinary, present-day world also suggests Eldritch Manor exists in a fantasy dimension that should not necessarily be read at face value. And if, in its early chapters, the book seems to over-indulge in establishing a cozily quirky setting, it makes up for that impression later as the danger of an all-devouring evil escalates to a scary, exciting conflict.

This is the third novel in the "Eldritch Manor" series, coming after Eldritch Manor and Shadow Wrack. It seems to leave a door open to the possibility of further adventures. Kim Thompson is a Canadian author, television writer, and filmmaker. This review is based on a pre-publication Kindle proof made available through Netgalley dot com. The paperback becomes available Dec. 27, 2016.

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