Rownie is a young boy who lives in Zombay. He's been taken into the household of Graba, a witch whose legs resemble those of a chicken but are made of clockwork and who moves her house around on a regular basis. Rownie's sole relative is his older brother Rowan, but Rowan's an actor, and acting is outlawed in Zombay, so now Rowan has disappeared. Rownie desperately wishes to find Rowan, so he joins an acting troupe himself, one consisting of goblins, who are allowed to act since they're not technically citizens of Zombay. Little does Rownie know that the stories that the goblins tell and the masks that they use are more significant than he could have imagined, and he's about to be sucked into the adventure of a lifetime.
Read an interview with William Alexander here.
While I really like the premise of this book, I just couldn't really get into it. The biggest problem that I have with it is that very little is explained. Alexander has created a world that is very different from our own, though it does seem to share some aspects, and I found it very difficult to follow the storyline because there was so much that I just didn't understand. At certain points, the story was very confusing. I feel that Alexander was in such a rush to tell the story that he didn't begin at the beginning and he never really made up for that.
One thing that I did like about the book was that it drew from the Baba Yaga fairy tales. I love fairy tales and I thought it was awesome that Alexander drew from them. I also liked that even though he was clearly influenced by Baba Yaga, he also made the character of Graba his own.
As difficult as it was for me to start this book, by the end I really was interested and I think that this series has potential to get really good - if Alexander explains more about the background of Zombay. If I run across the rest of the series, I would probably be interested in reading it. But I doubt that I'll actively seek it out.
This book is most definitely a mid-level book. It's perfect for pre-teens - the language isn't terribly advanced and the chapters are relatively short, the story moves pretty quickly, and Rownie is close to the age of the intended audience. I think that perhaps this is why the book didn't resonate with me - maybe I'm just too old to be as entertained by it as a 12 year old would be. So I would definitely recommend this book to pre-teens, especially if they're interested in fantasy or have an interest in theater.