Abandoned and alone, thirteen-year-old
Joe’s world is shattered when he enters a deserted council house and becomes
trapped within a labyrinth protecting the last magical places on earth. There,
Joe discovers a book charting this immense no-man’s land, without time or
place, its thirteen doors each leading to a different realm. Hunted by sinister
foes, the boy is forced ever deeper into both the maze and the mystery of his missing
parents. What will he find at the labyrinth’s centre, and can it reunite him
with the family he so desperately needs?
Crossing through diverse landscapes from Victorian Britain to fifties New Orleans, The Stranger’s Guide to Talliston is inspired by the internationally famous house and gardens dubbed ‘Britain’s Most Extraordinary Home’ by the Sunday Times.
It is a classic YA tale of adventure that introduces readers to an otherworld hiding in plain sight, cloaked in magic and steeped in imagined history. Yet beyond its fearsome huntsmen and battling magicians dwells the secret that lies within all of us – the power to live extraordinary lives.
I finished this book yesterday and I am still processing what happened and trying to organize my thoughts. This book is full on, described as YA (young adult) epic fantasy – they were not lying!
We meet Joe, aka the boy, after something disastrous has happened to his family. He is hiding out and waiting for them to find him. He is living by the rules set down to keep him safe, rule number 6; A good boy takes his medicine. There is one problem, Joe is out and needs to get some more.
As he is setting out, he gets attacked and ends up stumbling upon Talliston and gets sucked into the labyrinth. So much happens in the initial chapter, that from the off I had so many questions. What happened to his parents? Why the rules? Just who is he running from? What’s the medicine for? This instantly grabs your attention and makes you want to keep reading.
In order to exit the labyrinth Joe must travel it. I loved the whole set up of this, each doorway needs something magical in order to open it. Something that has to found and activated. Joe is transported in time and place every time he steps through a door.
Magic is a finite supply and the labyrinth protects the last magical places on earth from those who wish to seek it and use it for their own ends. Through the maze Joe is chased by The Wild Hunt who for some reason wish to kill Joe – yet another mystery that needs to be solved. These are truly hideous creatures; I certainly wouldn’t want to bump into one.
Every place Joe visit’s is beautifully described, you get a very vivid sense of where Joe is and what he is experiencing. His fear and hopelessness are palpable as is his growing sense of courage and determination. Through the book he retains the core of himself but realizes there is so more much he can do that he never dreamed possible.
One thing that frustrated me a little where all the unanswered questions you are left with, some I understood. For example, in every new part of the labyrinth Joe meets new people. He spends a relatively short but intense period of time with them. Due to this you get to know their characters really well, when Joe leaves it is inevitably in chaos. What happens to those he leaves behind?! I need to know! But you can’t because Joe has moved on, so must you. I get that.
However, there were a few loose ends that I didn’t feel were covered to my satisfaction. I can’t say what they are due to spoilers but I have been left with a small level of frustration.
The Stranger’s Guide
Throughout the labyrinth Joe is guided by The Strangers Guide. The book within the book, I really enjoyed this idea and it added a whole new level of mystery. Who left it where Joe found it and who wrote it? This was one mystery I wanted to solve. So many times, I thought I worked out who had written it, FYI, I did not. The reveal at the end had me thrown and I would love to know how it all came together.
The book is marketed as a YA novel, I agree, however there are a couple of things that are hinted at, that I would feel are not suitable for young teens. Nothing is gone into in detail so it may go over some heads.
The book itself is gorgeous, the cover art and end pages are beautiful and I am very pleased I have the hard-back version. This book is very high energy and has fabulous pacing. It is very full on and some parts were a little confusing. Overall this story captured me like the labyrinth captured Joe. Is was a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. If you enjoy a magical adventure, pick this up, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
My thanks to John for sending me a copy of his book to review. This is as always my honest opinion.
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