Something that I have felt over my life is that readers understand readers. Book nerds call to each other through the endless deluge of daily life and repetitive social media posts. This book for me is truly a love letter to other readers from the author herself. What H.G Parry has captured here is my teenage dream, all of my favourite well know literary characters solving a mystery in our world.
Charley Sutherland is gifted, attending Oxford as a thirteen year old boy and as an adult, the living expert on Charles Dickens. Charley also has the gift to bring literary characters to life. Literally, and sometimes he can’t control it. But with more and more literary characters popping up all over Wellington city, Charley for the first time has to contemplate that he is not the only one with this talent. While these characters all mentioning the approach of The End, it’s down to Charley and his older brother Rob to stop it, while also finding out what The End is.
It took me longer than I thought to finish this. Between work, pet death and just generally being run down, I felt like I had been living with these characters for a long period of time and that somehow made it harder to finish this. This is the book I wish my lonely, teen self had. Rich and alive with characters we all know and have seen many times but somehow, this feels like a needed breath of fresh air many of them needed.
I read many classics when I was growing up, much like Charley, and it was like meeting them for an afternoon tea. Among the well known Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray and the Artful Dodger, we had others like Matilda Wormwood and the White Witch herself. I couldn’t control my joy at Dorian Gray putting Heathcliff (not a Wuthering Heights fan) in his place. Heathcliff also has flaming eyes, like literally. Flaming eyes.
Woven among this cast is of course Charley himself and his older brother Rob. Rob is the absolute antithesis to Charley and some of the best scenes are how they are written together. I really look for realistic sibling relationships win fiction these days and Parry writes some of the best I’ve seen in a while. Charley is obviously a more than unusual mean with his ‘summoning’, as he calls it, along side being a childhood prodigy. Rob is the reluctant older brother trying to smooth as much normality into Charley without actually pelting him over the head with it. Their relationship is one full of love, unresolved conflict and the normal push and pull of any sibling relationship. That being said, I did find Rob very frustrating in places. Sometimes he was trying to control far too many things while also trying to pretend everything was ‘fine’ which wore me down slightly.
Something Parry has built into the world so deftly is the whole idea of family and how important it is. There is an honest discussion of what is important to both found families and traditional one. At one point Parry describes a relationship as a mess, and goes on to explain that is exactly what all relationships are. A beautiful mess. I was also not surprised to discover Parry has siblings after reading the book. The found family that is holding the literary characters in the story is also what is allowing their continued survival. Millie Radcliffe Dix, a character I have zero knowledge of, kind of runs a safe place for all of these characters and it really works well with the moments of Rob and Charley together.
This ongoing discussion of family, the important of reading comes together in a earth shaking plot revelation. I realised it just before it became clear and I actually had to take a deep breath for a minute before I read on. The plot is built around this and it is such a pay off in the end that I can’t remember the last time a standalone novel paid off for me like this.
If you are looking for a standalone fantasy that is both an homage and a self aware discussion of what it means to be a reader, then please check this out. Even if like me, you were a cranky, classics reading teenager then definitely read it. I’ll be picking up Parry’s other works in future for sure.
Thank you so much to Orbit Books for sending me a copy of this book to review!