Thursday, 9 October 2008
The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins
I hadn't planned to read this book for the R.I.P. III Challenge – the author is new to me - but I picked it up at the library before leaving for London recently, and had read a couple of pages in my hotel room the other night when it occurred to me that it was a good candidate. The setting is Berlin, and the stories of the Brothers Grimm provide a background. Christine Starlight, daughter of pop singers who died in a car crash, has returned to live in the city with her artist boyfriend, while he benefits from a grant endowed by the distinctly creepy Immanuel Zweigler, known as Mandy Z. At the outset we learn that Mandy Z has a secret – he likes to murder fairies. In Hotel Mandy Z, where he houses the beneficiaries of his grants, he has, like Bluebeard, a secret chamber where he keeps his Bonewife, a sculpture fashioned from the bones of his victims.
Christine, injured in the crash which killed her parents, suffers from chronic back pain. When what should have been a relatively minor injury triggers a severe bout of pain, she finds herself in a world which temporarily connects with her own, a land of faery caught for ever in a medieval society. Here she finds a childhood friend, stolen by the faeries some twenty years before. Of course all is not entirely well in this faery idyll, and the Queen, Mayfridh, determines that she will follow her friend back into the land of humans, and it isn't long before Mandy Z realises that he has a faery living in his house. Mayfridh and her kingdom are now in grave danger.
I enjoyed this story, which uses its Grimm motifs effectively, while creating a band of likeable characters. However, although I liked them, and romped through the book at a rapid pace, I felt its grisly themes weren't fully realised. Mandy Z was creepy, yes, but not terrifying, the witch Hexebart nasty but not the stuff of nightmares. The original works from which the stories are drawn are much more frightening, even though they lack the real world setting which ought to make this book much more scary. Nonetheless, although it fails to live up to its promise, I'd recommend it as an amusing piece of froth, good for those autumn evenings when you want something atmospheric but don't want to be scared out of your wits.