Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book Review #5: The Carnival of Lost Souls

This week's book review is Laura Quimby's wonderful novel, The Carnival of Lost Souls: A Handcuff Kid Novel.  It isn't an animal fantasy, but I wanted to review it anyway.  This is one of the rare instances where I can squeal, "I know this author!" and gloat about how I've basked in her awesomeness.  Quimby was in my group at the Highlights Fantasy Novel Workshop back in May and is one of the nicest authors you will ever meet.  Here's what her website has to say about her debut novel:
Jack Carr has been shuttled from foster home to group home to foster home his entire life. The only constant has been his interest in magic, especially handcuff escapes like those mastered by his hero, Harry Houdini. When he's placed with the Professor, however, he feels like he's finally found a home—but his new guardian is hiding a dangerous secret. 

Years ago the Professor bartered his soul to the undead magician the Amazing Mussini, and when the payment is due, he sends Jack in his place. Jack must travel with Mussini to the Forest of the Dead, a place in between the real world and the afterlife, where he's forced to perform in Mussini's traveling magic show. If he stays in the Forest long enough, he'll die himself. To find his way home, he'll have the help of Mussini's other "minions"—kids stolen just like Jack—and his wits, nothing more. Can he follow the example of his hero, Houdini, and escape the inescapable?

In case you hadn't noticed, The Carnival of Lost Souls is a creepy, ghost-filled story.  I'm a big fat pansy when it comes to scary stuff, but I found Quimby's novel to be "all in good fun" scary not, "this is going to give me nightmares for a week" scary.  Two of my favorite elements of the novel are Quimby's use of setting and pacing.  The story takes place predominantly in the Forest of the Dead--a purgatory-like place where ghosts "live" until they chose to move on.  It's full of unsavory folk--like murderers and thieves--as well as the ghosts of people who have something to regret.  Although the endless forest, villages of the dead, and underground Labyrinth are all drawn from Quimby's imagination, they feel very real.  The cold mist and spooky trees chillled me to the bone and I half-expect to find hatches to the Death Wranglers' realm next time next time I go for a walk in the woods.  But the setting is colorful and whimsical, too, particularly with the carnival show Mussini and the gang bring with them from town to town.  With the mix of fun and eerie settings, there's never a boring place in the book.  And with Quimby's vivid details, it's easy to imagine the Forest of the Dead may be just beyond your backyard woods or favorite park.

Quimby's use of pace is also superb is The Carnival of Lost Souls.  Because Jack has a streak of mischief in him, he tends to find trouble (and trouble finds him) wherever he goes.  His story moves along swiftly with plenty of cliff-hanger chapter endings that force you to keep reading.  Pick any chapter--any chapter at all--and I guarantee you won't find a single dull moment.  (I kind of sounded like a carney just then, didn't I?)  With tight scenes and tight action, I felt like I was right in the middle of the story with Jack.  This sort of pacing is hard to accomplish, but very important in Middle Grade novels.  If you write for this age group, you'll definitely want to study how Quimby's magic fingers makes this feat look easy.

I could go on and on about all the things I enjoyed about The Carnival of Lost Souls--from the characters to the emotional depth to the fantastic elements of magic--but I'll let you discover those things for yourself.  If you're writing an action-packed Middle Grade story, you should certainly check out this book.  And if you just love a good, spine-tingling adventure, then this book is definitely for you.  I know I want to see more "Handcuff Kid" novels in the future, so go pick up this book and demand, "More!  Now!" to those publishing bigwigs.  :)

You can check out Quimby's website and blog at: 

And do let me know if you read The Carnival of Lost Souls--I'd love to hear what you think.  (Halloween is just around the corner!  What a good book to cozy up with on a dark and stormy night.)   Happy reading!
Note: Summary blurb and cover art are both from Quimby's website.

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