The Eyeball Collector by F E Higgins
|The Eyeball Collector by F E Higgins|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Stefan Bachmann|
|Summary: Delightfully Gothic and written with much good old-fashioned aplomb. It's a sharp and clever tale for sharp and clever children, who aren't put off by big words, careful build-up, and some really tough riddles.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: June 2009|
|Publisher: Macmillan's Children's Books|
When Hector Fitzbaudly's father is blackmailed out of his fortune and dies shortly thereafter, Hector vows to take revenge on the man responsible. Easier said than done. For with the help of his new-found riches, the villain is masquerading as foreign royalty, and Hector, now penniless and orphaned, couldn't get within a mile of him if he wanted to. But he still has his wits about him, and so, with steely resolve, he begins concocting a devilishly ingenious plan to bring about his enemy's downfall.
The best word to describe The Eyeball Collector is sly. The writing's sly, the plotting's sly, the humour is very, very sly... There are a handful of riddles sprinkled throughout that are so sly they border on insolvable (for silly-me, at least; I kept having to skip to glossary at the back for the answers). Monstrous words like 'brachycephalic' and 'crepuscular' are dropped with astounding ease, as are Latin phrases and terms. It all comes across as ever so slightly pompous, and I think that's great. For this book, at least. It gives it the feeling of something grand and sweepingly old-fashioned, even when the story itself never quite achieves such lofty heights.
Eyeball kicks off with a haunting opening line (It was my father taught me how to kill a butterfly) that grabs the reader immediately, which is good because things go rather slowly the first couple of chapters. There's lots of build-up, characters doing this and that, scene-setting, atmospherics. It's only when action shifts to a menacing and very bizarre mansion on a mountain-top that the story really begins gathering speed. That's also when things get icky. Genuinely chilling things start to happen just about every other page, most of them revolving around the mistress of the house and her... 'peculiar' (to say the least) obsessions.
I have to say, I figured out the final twist the moment the author began setting it up, which was about 150 pages before the great revelation. Some of the major plot-points are a bit too coincidental, and by the end I couldn't help feeling the entire book worked more because of the author's cunning style than because of truly thorough plotting. The important thing, though, is that it still did work.
As for the title, it's great, isn't it? But as intriguing it may sound, I have the feeling it was used more to attract blood-thirsty nine-year-olds than to actually encapsulate the story. So, to all blood-thirsty nine-year-olds out there: there is no nasty mass-murderer in this book who goes around ripping eyeballs out of his victims' heads and stowing them away in a box. Sorry. Few things in Eyeball are for the average kid horror reader. In fact, if the kid horror readers I know are anything to go by, they will loose interest within a couple of pages. 'Cuz, like, there's no blood!'
But there's brains instead (always inside the head, mind you) and it's all the better for it. This is sharp and clever book for sharp and clever children. It's perhaps not the most accessible – it begins somewhat leisurely, proceeds somewhat haphazardly; big words abound, and precise, sophisticated grammar (not as common in children's literature as one might suppose) is the norm - but as a result it's all the more special and unique. I loved it and I hope lots of others will, too.
Much thanks to Macmillan for sending Bookbag a copy.
Further reading suggestion: Two other great reads set before rich historical backdrops and featuring supernatural goings-on are The Kiss of Death by Marcus Sedgwick and The Story of Cirrus Flux by Matthew Skelton. For something equally atmospheric but that's much more forthright about its fantasy elements, try The Magic Thief, Sarah Prineas's marvelous debut.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Eyeball Collector by F E Higgins at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Eyeball Collector by F E Higgins at Amazon.com.
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