Friday, January 9, 2015

Review: Heap House

Heap House (Iremonger Trilogy, book one)
By Edward Carey
Published 2014 by Overlook Juvenile

Clod Iremonger is about to become a man. He is nearly sixteen, about to be betrothed to his cousin Pinalippy, when things go awry. He meets Lucy Pennant, a new servant girl in his family's estate. And with Lucy, Clod begins to uncover the secrets of the Iremongers and Heap House.

This ARC showed up at my library a couple months ago and I set it aside as one I'd like to read. I started seeing it on a few blogs, generally being praised extensively. So, I finally set out to read it in December and finished it up just before the end of the year.

I wanted to like this book. Seeing positive reviews of it about the web propelled me to pick it up sooner rather than later. It sounded strange and intriguing, different from the usual middle-grade fare. Well, that's all a bit of an understatement. This is one of the strangest books I've read in recent history and I'm not so sure it's a good thing.

The story starts with little introduction, and it's a very odd world that readers are thrown into. Clod's family is very unusual, which you can tell from their names alone. They live in a crumbling estate and most of them never leave. They all possess a birth object, something assigned to them that they must always carry with them. It seems that they would not function without a litany of servants  - there are servants that bathe them, cut their hair and nails, etc. It's all very strange. Clod is exceptional even among the Iremongers - he can hear the birth objects calling to him. They only ever say one thing - a name, which Clod assumes is the object's name.

With Clod's unusual power, it's easy to tell that something is not quite right about the Iremonger family and their birth objects. It's not clear exactly what that is until quite far in the book - and the reveal is done nicely. Unfortunately, the whole thing is just flat-out bizarre - too bizarre for me. It's also morbid and uncomfortable as you realize what exactly is going on in Heap House. The story mostly alternates narratives between Clod and Lucy, which is effective in showing multiple sides of the story, though some other narratives are thrown in (which are all very strange as well).

The strangeness of the story, and being dropped into it with little explanation, and the bits that I felt were underdeveloped (the larger setting, Lucy's life before coming to Heap House, much of the backstory in general) all combined to make this book just not work for me. Additionally, I have a hard time imagining the child who'd be interested in this one. Certainly, there is a market for strange middle-grade lit, but this might be too far afield and too British to work here. The ending is also not my favorite and I'm not sure where the rest of the series is going to go. I haven't yet decided if I'll check out book two.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

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