Best Young Adult winner Annabel Pitcher (for Hachette’s Ketchup Clouds) pithily commented that “Young Adult Mystery novels are no more watered down adult mysteries than young adults are watered-down adults.”
Heh. You go, Annabel Pitcher.
See the other YA nominees here, and the rest of the winners and nominees here.
Bedlam Hospital has a disturbing problem: every night, at precisely Twelve Minutes to Midnight, the inmates begin feverishly writing gibberish—on paper, on the walls, on themselves; in pencil, in ink, in blood. In the morning, none of the inmates have any memory of their actions, and every night, the madness spreads further. Having exhausted every medical avenue*, the authorities turn to Montgomery Flinch, an author who has recently taken England by storm with his macabre tales of terror published in the Penny Dreadful.
Little do they know, Montgomery Flinch doesn't exist. The stories are actually written by thirteen-year-old Penelope Treadwell, the orphaned heiress who owns the Penny Dreadful.
But Penelope isn't going to let a trifling detail like THAT prevent her from investigating...
Loads of atmosphere, action, and tense moments.
Details like the secret door leading to the SPOILER, and the mysterious, beautiful widow are nice nods to the genre and suggest a real affection for it.
Edge doesn't condescend to his audience: he doesn't over-explain plot points, and he never actually spills the beans about the specific events the prisoners are writing about. Deciphering those texts isn't necessary to enjoy the story, but they'll make a nice Easter Egg for any readers with a basic knowledge of twentieth-century history.
I got the impression that Edge was shooting for Late Nineteenth-Century Verbose and Flowery, but there's a distinct lack of rhythm in the prose. For example: "Behind him, Alfie failed to hide the smirk on his face as he took a sip from one of Monty's discarded glasses before grimacing in sudden disgust." In other words, much of the book feels like one big run-on sentence.
There's nothing in the way of character arc or growth: at the end of the story, the main characters are exactly who they were at the beginning. (I suppose that could be chalked up as a nod to the conventions of the genre, but as always, I don't like that as an argument, as it suggests that genre fiction is somehow 'lesser' than 'literary' fiction. Anyway.)
For a smart girl, Penelope is amazingly slow to put two and two together. Also, three-quarters of the way in, a plot point requires her to suddenly possess Crazy Science Skills which she explains away by saying that she's 'always' had a strong interest in science. It was so out of left field that I wrote NANCY DREW MOMENT in my notes.
Nutshell: Plenty of atmosphere and action, but no character development or emotional depth.
*I think? Hopefully this wasn't their first choice of solution?
In an effort to thwart the robbery of a Van Gogh—hilariously, the robbers are taking advantage of the chaos surrounding a publicity stunt robbery okay-ed by the museum and carried out by a world-famous performance artist—the Dead Boy Detectives, Edwin and Charles, save the life of Crystal Palace, the performance artist's daughter.
For a moment, unlike most people, she SEES them. And not only does she see them, but she notices the Saint Hilarion's badge on Edwin's uniform. So, when she comes to, she asks her parents to send her away to boarding school—specifically, to St. Hilarion's.
Knowing that the place is FULL OF EVIL DOERS, the boys bravely follow her, returning to THE ONE PLACE IN THE WORLD THEY WANT TO AVOID.
I liked the muted colors in the flashback panels, and how Crystal is drawn more distinctly than the boys. I love that different fonts are used to differentiate between the two narrators, and how the choice of font evokes two very different voices.
I also especially liked the parallel images in the section where the boys tell us about their pasts through tandem flashbacks.
Their voices aren't just distinct because of the font:
Edwin Paine: The young lady had swooned away, and was now deeply unconscious.
Charles Rowland: The babe was out cold.
Heh. And I love that in case a reader didn't go in aware of the fact, that the authors make it clear in a few way that this is in the same universe as Sandman, the most obvious being this:
Edwin: What if Death had come?
Charles: She didn't.
Lots of other stuff, too: Crystal's desire to be a normal kid; her parents' total self-absorption; the friendship between Edwin and Charles; the easily-drawn connection between the horrors of what happened to them at Hilarion's and the horrors that still go on in schools and colleges today; and then of course the intimations of HUMAN SACRIFICE AND PURE EVIL.
Note to self: never trust a dude with a pipe shaped like a devil's head.
HECK, YEAH. Also! I clearly need to revisit Sandman, which is where the boys first appeared, and I need to read the Children's Crusade crossover series, because they pop up there, too. So many things to read! I AM GOING TO BE SO BROKE.