The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

(9.0/10) Be prepared to buy more to find out what happens next to Alice, Ashes and the rest.

Book of the Year 2014 (see all)

First of all, ignore the blurb on the back cover - it does the book no favours. I can’t see how references to books which it is not like can help. Making comparisons with best-loved stories is asking for trouble – though that may just be my perspective as a reserved English reader.

Don’t let my prejudices or the hype put you off - judge it on its own merits.

It has a cracking title and the central premise is great fun. Alice, our heroine, and other Readers, can actually enter books and become part of their story. It’s a lovely notion, ideal for the kind of well-read child that this book will suit.

Two design aspects are really pleasing: drawings are used as chapter headers with larger illustrations too, and the cover is likely to appeal to boy or girls. The central character is female – but there’s no sickly pink or glitter.

There’s a small cast of well-defined and interesting characters; many readers will love the talking cat, Ashes, in particular. Despite being over three hundred pages, it gallops along nicely through 29 brisk chapters. There are secrets, subterfuges and spells galore amongst plenty of action and some humour.

With the exception of a Dragon, the imaginary beings are inventions rather than cribbed from other stories [as far as I know]. This and the magical use of books are the story’s strong points – which the blurb doesn’t mention. It’s well-suited to those who enjoy following the adventures of a resourceful orphan in a fantasy world. I’d recommend for experienced readers – they could be quite young but ideally need to be bookish to get the best from this literary quest.

It’s only fair to point out that it is fairly obviously only the first of a series: be prepared to buy more to find out what happens next to Alice, Ashes and the rest.

The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler
Published by Doubleday April 2014
326 pages in review paperback

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