On the eve of his 12th birthday, in London 1601, Jack Snap is rushing home to receive the pet dog he has been promised as his present. Unfortunately, he never makes it home, and is kidnapped and transported through a waterless well to a house full of orphan boys (also kidnapped), known as the dark house. Overseen by a man known only as the Magus, the boys are forced to work on his alchemy projects, and are kept in line by a pair of creatures known as Wedge and Mistress Split, who are actually two halves of the same whole, born in a bottle, and were themselves created by the magus. The image of this pair hopping around the room on their single legs has to be read to be appreciated! And as an extra incentive, the boys are surrounded by previous captives, who having tried to escape, are then turned to stone as a punishment.
The Magus’ ultimate aim is to turn London into a city of gold, and he believes Jack to be the Radiant boy who is necessary to make the alchemy complete. Jack however, is not prepared to do his, and with the help of various fantastical characters, including a dragon in a moat, an imprisoned king sunk in a tank and a summoned knight, sets out to defeat the magus, and save London.
Simple enough story, but full of twists, and everybody trying to outwit each other. With the arrival of Silver, the heroine of Tanglewreck, Jack is whipped away to solve these problems, whilst getting a brief lesson in the problems of time travel, and the ability to exist in more than one place at once. Quantum physics makes a strong appearance in this book, just as it did in Tanglewreck, and again, it goes over my head, but it really doesn’t seem to matter! How do you go about processing the idea that The Dark House only exists in the Magus’s head and when he chooses to stop imagining it, it will collapse, even though the boys are still inside? Or that the Dragon is not in the moat, he is he moat, but also not the moat? The dragon in fact has some of the most interesting lines in this story, if a bit obtuse, but maybe that’s what makes them interesting.
“For whatever has stood in the world leaves behind an imprint, an echo, a scent, a spirit. What is destroyed is also reclaimed. What is lost waits to be found.”I loved this book. It was a fast and relatively easy read, but a brilliant story, a really well created world, both the real life descriptions of London 1601, and the fantastical elements, with some very vivid characters. As well as the story, as well as the quantum physics thread, there is also a lot of understated humour, the prime example being Wedge trying any means possible to hatch a coconut, as he believes it is a magical egg, which perhaps in 17th century London, it would be! A good story, interesting ideas, and a very definite moral thread too, although I won’t go into that because it would ruin the conclusion. It was brilliant!