Published by Amulet Books on May 20th, 2014
Genres: horror, middle grade
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This much-anticipated follow-up to Jonathan Auxier’s exceptional debut,Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, is a Victorian ghost story with shades of Washington Irving and Henry James. More than just a spooky tale, it’s also a moral fable about human greed and the power of storytelling.
The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious spectre and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives. With Auxier’s exquisite command of language, The Night Gardener is a mesmerizing read and a classic in the making.
I think that maybe if I wasn’t who I am I would have enjoyed this book more. The Night Gardener is, by all accounts, a pretty intriguing and utterly creepy middle grade novel. But it was also a slow starter. I was so close to DNFing it because I was bored to tears and nothing was happening, and the only reason I didn’t was because I had DNFed the last three books I read and felt guilty. So I stuck with it. And it took until about 37% in for anything pivotal to happen. For me, that is FAR too long. Especially for a middle grade book. I don’t know how many kids will be that patient and wait that long for something exciting to happen.
It is for this reason that I am categorizing this book as a middle grade novel for adults. But there is another reason as well. It’s freaking scary. And since I was one of those kids that read middle grade novels when I was 8, I would have been up all night, shivering in my bed, thinking something was going to reach up and grab my toes while I slept. As an adult it even scared me in parts. The creature is terrifying, the imagery is intense, and though this part of the book was pretty brilliant, I feel bad for any parents that have to deal with horrified children. Okay, maybe not because children crying fuels my happiness.
My biggest complaint though is the pacing. It’s just all over the place. I’m not sure why almost nothing of importance happens in the first 37% of the book, but alas, that is the case. There is a whole lot of exposition, infodumping, traveling, but not a lot of plot development. And it’s completely obvious. I know the author was setting the scene and getting us ready for what was to come, but it took far too long, and I believe this book could have been cut down by at LEAST 50 pages. There are unnecessary scenes, empty dialogue, and I just didn’t get it, to be honest.
Good things? Characterizations are pretty decent, if a little cookie cutter. When the story was good, the writing was great. The imagery and Victorian influence was well done. Obviously I loved the villain and I would give details but I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovering that for yourself. I also loved the themes in the novel, such as greed and importance of family. The book was never preachy and got its point across in a very effective way. Sometimes middle grade novels feel a bit condescending in tone, like they are talking down to the child they are telling the story to, and I never felt that way once with The Night Gardener.
So I am a bit conflicted. On one hand, I think it’s pretty well done, and I would love to recommend it. But on the other hand, I am not sure who I would recommend it TO. Brave and patient children who don’t scare easily? Adults who don’t mind a good book taking a while to get going? You can see why I am confused. I’ve also noticed that the reviews for this are overwhelmingly positive so far. But I think adding some healthy criticism is a good thing so potential readers can see things from a different angle.
This book covers the “Strong Sibling Relationship” square.