The Book Itself: A complex cover! And one that does not make 100% sense until you finish the book (the eye is particularly chilling post-read). I love that it is in black and white, and just macabre enough. And the names around the edge! I can’t tell you why that’s cool (because spoilers), but trust me: it is.
My Review: When twentysomething A., the unexpected European relative of the Wells family, and his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl with shockingly dyed hair, inherit the beautiful but eerie estate of Axton House, deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never even knew he had a “second cousin, twice removed” in America, much less that the eccentric gentleman had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . .
Together, A. and Niamh quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and a cushy lifestyle. Axton House is haunted, they know it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets they slowly but surely uncover. Why all the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze and what does the basement vault keep? And what of the rumors in town about a mysterious gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?
What a topsy-turvy book! Told entirely through journal entries, letters, transcriptions of video and audio recordings, and ciphers (secret codes!!), it’s definitely a unique book that had me staying up late to figure out where it was all going to lead.
At first I found it hard to buy in. Everything seemed to happen so randomly. Nothing seemed to fit together! A. and Niamh perplexed and annoyed me. What was up with them? How did they even get to living together? Why is she mute? Is she really mute? Or does she just choose not to speak? And how old is she??
See, lots of questions.
But let me tell you, those last one hundred pages really made up for any confusion I had.
Not that these pages listed out my answers nice and neat for me. On the contrary: those last hundred pages took everything I thought might happen and tore it apart, turned it on its head, and made the book into something else entirely.
You get breadcrumbs of clues, you try to piece something together but nothing ever quite fits. Because the truth behind the story is stranger than fiction. There are otherworldly things, the transference of dreams, madmen, massacres, and a swift ending that leaves you reeling.
It’s like a giant, messed up version of the Clue board game. And I mean, it’s quite messed up. Not for the younger audiences, not for the faint of heart.
Now that I’ve given you complete gobble-dy gook of a review! Let’s try to convey something that makes sense: this is an awesome book. It makes up for the price of admission, which is sheer confusion for the bulk of it, being fed just enough clues to keep you interested, making you feel like you might figure it out soon. It’s masterfully plotted and the mystery is well-crafted (if you can suspend your disbelief enough to allow for some magical/mystical factors. “Supernatural enhancements,” if you will to what is otherwise a mystery novel set in modern day ;-)).
The characters are a tad grating. A. is always “A.” You never get a name. I spent most of the book thinking Niamh was pronounced “NY-am” before the end, where I learn it’s actually pronounced “NEEV.” She’s always a bit of a mystery. Ironically, the biggest mystery left unsolved at the end of this thing is the main characters, and what exactly they’re up to. It’s one of the biggest thing that grates at the end of an otherwise awesome story.
But please, please go along for the ride. If anything else, it’ll be something you haven’t seen before.
My Grade: B+
Crack the Code: No, I did not just smack my hand down on my keyboard! Within the book is a specific kind of code, used to encode one of the clues to the book’s overall mystery. It’s called a Playfair Cipher, and if you’ve read this book (and even if you haven’t and just want a challenge), try to decode my message here (and try not to be a Cheater McCheaterson and plug it into some kind of decoding website!). The code will give you your next instructions 😉
I hope I did that right! 😛