I should probably preface this review by saying that I may have a slight bias with this book because the author, Charlotte Salter, is a friend of one of my best friends. I’ve met her a couple of times and she is super lovely. BUT, that does not in any way influence my opinion of this book. I mean, it would be kind of awkward if I didn’t like but fortunately, I love it. And I shall tell you why below.
Sophie Seacove tells stories. Stories about her life, and what it would be like had the world not been taken over by a madness inflicted by the sea. However, we launch into her story as she is forcibly taken to live in a decaying mansion on a desolate island with a family that can only be described as ghastly surrounded by the sea monsters that everyone most fears.
The mansion is packed with secrets and stories itself though, as awful as the place is. And Sophie is determined to find these out, particularly the Monster Box which she hopes may help her escape and be reunited with her family.
You know that I’m always a fan of anything that’s set in a dystopian world, so this book immediately appealed to my sense of all things wrong in the world. Throw in the fact that it was a fantastical adventure story aimed at middle grade readers – I recently wrote about how I prefer to read young adult and middle grade fiction over “grown up” books” – and I was sold.
I love a good bit of worldbuilding, and this was a novel that did it fantastically. I found myself desperately wanting to know more about this strange new world that Sophie inhabited and the creatures within it. The writing was so vivid that I found myself fearing the sea monsters alongside her, despising and being intrigued by the odd characters she encountered, and feeling her curiosity as she explored the wonderfully fantastic and grotesque mansion.
Not only was the setting brilliant, but we were introduced to a volley of bizarre and wonderful characters. As I’ve already said, they were both despicable and intriguing at the same time. The Battleship, the mistress of the house, was mysterious and in your face at the same time; the twins were slightly terrifying (and I loved that each had their own personality – you don’t always get that!); and you ended up feeling empathy for characters who at first seemed somewhat repulsive.
And on top of the main story, we have the underlying stories that Sophie tells – it’s like multiple books in one!
It has a mildly gothic and an almost steampunk feel about it that makes it so different from most other books on the market. The only things I can think to compare it to are a Series of Unfortunate Events and Tim Burton in terms of characters and tone, but I found it more exciting and adventurous than even those.
If you’ve got a middle grade (8 to 12 year old) child, or even if you just like thrilling stories that aren’t compromised by the confusion of teen and adulthood, this is one to read. Or if you just like adventure, twisted characters and plain good old fashioned storyteller, it’s one for you.