For those of you who are familiar with the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, you are aware of the rarity in which they end happily ever after. Not completely happy anyway. In The Book of Lost Things, author John Connolly captures the spirit of these old fairy tales and twists them together to form one all his own. Is it dark? Yes. Is it darker than some of the traditional tales? I think so.
World War II is in full swing and with the loss of his mother David’s life is harder than ever. But when David begins to be plagued by fainting fits he begins to see a strange looking man whom he calls ‘The Crooked Man’ in his dreams and eventually in his real world. But when David is led through a hole in the garden wall by his dead mother’s voice he finds himself in a world where dreams and nightmares mixed with a variety of story book characters come together to create a world where happily ever after doesn’t exist and where heroes lose to the monsters all too often.
With a pack of hybrid human-wolves dogging his heels, his own fears having come to life, and The Crooked Man manipulating him with his own agenda, David will have to rely on the few people he can trust to make it to the King’s castle. There he hopes to find the help he needs to get back home.
I found this book while mindlessly surfing the web. I saw an article sharing the top 10 most undervalued fantasy books, and The Book of Lost Things was on the list. There were several books on that list that I thought sounded worth reading, but something about this book stood out from the rest. I got it from a used bookstore a few weeks later and then let it sit on my bookshelf for several months after that. But when I finally got around to reading it, I found myself unable to put it down.
Since I just wrote a blog about the effective use of character deaths and how to write them I want to start there. Because this book epitomizes dark fantasy, character deaths are in abundance. However, I was surprised at how well they were implemented. I will refrain from providing details, but the deaths all fit into the mold of what I previously described to be a good death. They were performed in such a way that they enhanced the plot, helped develop the character, and were well planned (or at least had the feeling of being well planned).
Like many young adult or children’s novels, this is a rite of passage story. David, a preteen embarking on a difficult journey, discovers a great deal about what it means to be a good man and identifies his own faults to become the hero the story needs. Overall it was well done, the story was well developed, and the execution was creative and successful. But I will say one thing: this book is definitely a boy book. The main character is a young boy, the content is a bit darker and more violent (two things that usually attract the young male audience), and, as I mentioned earlier, it tells the story of a boy becoming a man. The challenge that Connolly faced was in trying to make the idea of his book a success. And in one way it was; it was creative, unique, and well constructed, but it didn’t do as well as some of his other books in sales. Though sales aren’t all that matters it does pose an interesting question about intended audience.
Which bring me to a lesson I learned this past semester: know your audience. Amateur writers often can’t correctly match their writing style with the correct audience, and the results are often disastrous. I don’t think that John Connolly is an amateur and I don’t think he did what he did on accident. I think he wrote a book in the only way it could be written, but it just wasn’t as popular as he hoped it would be. Fault? In regards to profit, perhaps, but in regards to literature it was a creative blend of reality and fantasy that I would recommend to anyone who wasn’t turned off by a little bit of intense violence and beloved fairy tale characters gone bad.