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Return of The Hatted One

Book Review: Verdigris Deep, by Frances Hardinge
This is an altogether darker book than Fly By Night. It's also a much more traditional story in many ways. The story begins when three children (aged around 11-12 I guess) take some coins from a well in order to make up their bus fare. The children soon develop mysterious powers of vision, telekinesis and mind-reading. It appears that they have been possessed by a mysterious Well Spirit, whose job it is to grant the wishes of those throwing coins into the well, and for stealing the coins, they must work to grant the wishes themselves. Initially this goes according to plan, but things become more complicated as the Spirit reveals a more malevolent and amoral character.

If I was asked a simple question on the matter, I would say that I did not like fantasy novels, but a good novel such as this blends reality and fantasy seamlessly and plausibly. Likewise, it is often said that children like to be frightened, and I wouldn't have claimed that for myself, but maybe it's down to the detailed meaning of the words: to me, one is frightened if one has lost faith that things will turn out all right, somehow, even if one can't quite imagine how that will be the case. There are some genuinely dark moments in the story and it does strike me, at a high level, as the sort of plot Torchwood could have done with - though the characters here are so much better written, and the eleven-year-olds are more logical and less infantile than the Torchwood team.

Two things I particularly like in the writing are the way Frances casts the parental characters, seen from the children's point of view as very distinctly larger than life and slightly mad, and the way she often gives fleeting lifelike qualities to inanimate objects, just in a passing phrase or sentence. As a novel it works very well, and it does strike me that it would also work very well visually, on the small or large screen. And the walk to Tesco's will never be quite the same again ...
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