Sunday, 7 October 2012

Osbert the Avenger, by Christopher William Hill

“Gruesomely Funny” reads the cover of my copy of Osbert the Avenger. Gruesome it is, but in a bizarrely lighthearted fashion. This is book one of the new Tales from Schwartzgarten series from playwright Christopher William Hill.

Creepy and gothic, from the get-go this book reads like a cross between Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket. Osbert lives in the city of Schwartzgarten. He’s a fairly ordinary little boy, except for the fact that he is incredibly smart, shining at whatever task he puts his hand to. When he has learnt all that his parents are able to teach him, it seems that the only option is for Osbert to sit the entrance exam for the The Institute, a foreboding building that casts its shadow across the city and whose teachers are renowned for their cruelty. This, obviously, is where the trouble begins.

It’s very difficult to say more without going into extensive detail and giving away all the twists and turns, but what ensues is quite an extraordinary series of events, resulting in several murders, several turns of fortune, and a quite unpredictable ending. To start with, things happen rather by accident, or by fortunate (or unfortunate, depending upon your perspective) coincidence. Gradually, though, Osbert’s actions become more deliberate and more determined, quietly egged on by his friend Isabella, a young lady who is all innocence on the outside, but becomes increasingly creepier as the tale progresses. Where will it take them and how far are they each willing to go?

This is definitely a book to stand out from the crowd. Refreshing and quirky, it put chills down the back of my neck, and made me question the author’s moral ambitions. In fact, ‘morally ambiguous’ is the phrase that comes to mind. Great for any youngster looking for something to get their teeth into, and definitely something I’ll be recommending to my customers this autumn.

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