Puppet Master by Joanne Owen

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Puppet Master by Joanne Owen

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Stefan Bachmann
Reviewed by Stefan Bachmann
Summary: Puppet Master is an odd, interesting, underdeveloped little book with some nice atmosphere, some not-so-nice dialogue, and a pair of fascinating twins. It's too shallow to be entirely satisfying, but it's worth a look all the same. Joanne Owen was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1842556207

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Once, Milena's father was the owner of the most beautiful and famous puppet theater in all of Prague. He died, though. To make matters worse the theater had to be sold. And just in case things weren't bad enough yet for poor Milena, her mother disappeared shorty thereafter.

Three years later, a new puppet theater arrives in Prague, run by a mysterious man known only as the Puppet Master. When Milena runs into him one dark and stormy night along with his menacing twin protégés, Zdenka and Zdenko, she is instantly invited to his show. Of course she goes, completely unsuspecting of the shocking secrets lying in wait for her...

Before reading this book, I had never come across a story wherein puppets play a crucial part, and I must say I like the idea immensely. There's something inherently creepy about those wooden figurines, usually limp and dead, and yet in the right hands as alive as any person. I, for one, would welcome more fantasy books on the subject.

Aside from that, I'm not entirely sure who this book will appeal to. It's marketed as a chilling historical fantasy for young readers, and everything from it's starkly austere cover to its ominous tag line point towards kid-horror. In reality, though, Puppet Master is quite dreamy and detached. There are a few shivery scenes that are nicely done, but it's definitely not what you would think of as frightening, or even exciting. Nor is the plot as twisty and clever as one might come to expect from this sort of book. What finally banishes all thoughts of this being a straight-forward fantasy are the five short stories from Bohemian folklore that come interspersed with the plot.

So... If this still sounds like your cup of tea then read on.

The author's delicate prose complement the atmosphere of the story very well. Turn-of-the-century Bohemia is strongly evoked and the snatches of Czech myths were interesting to me, as I probably never would have heard of them otherwise. Also, Zdenka and Zdenko, the psychotic twins, are fascinating creations, not to mention the most well-rounded characters in an otherwise one-dimensional cast.

On a negative side, Puppet Master is just too short. None of the characters, ideas, plot points, and twists get nearly the attention they deserve. And I thought the dialogue rather bad. Almost every conversation is wooden and runs a predictable arc. To illustrate, here is a short excerpt from page 105:

This little sprig can clear your mind and sharpen your senses. It can even quicken recovery from a fever.

Are you sure a dry old leaf can do all that? (Cue lecture on the properties of mystical herbs that will somehow benefit our heroine in her adventures ahead.)

And parts of the (mostly good) prose simply needed another edit.

Next day, just as the sun rose, a stream of people came to the queen's castle. The higher it rose the bigger the crowd became... (pp. 93)

I don't know about you, but when I read that passage I thought the queen's castle had begun to float up into the air.

But be that as it may, Puppet Master is not at all a bad book. There are plenty of small touches, a spark of inspiration here, a rush of suspense there, that make it worth reading. Unfortunately it all rings slightly hollow by the end. At a slim two-hundred pages, and packed with notes, legends and illustrations, it would have had to be very densely written to be completely successful. As it is, it's just too underdeveloped.

My thanks to Orion for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell is also a short book, but the author knows how to use his space wisely. Puppet Master put us in mind of The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt - and we think that you might enjoy that too.

Bookinterviews.jpg Joanne Owen was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

Buy Puppet Master by Joanne Owen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Puppet Master by Joanne Owen at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Puppet Master by Joanne Owen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Puppet Master by Joanne Owen at Amazon.com.


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