Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: The Black Book of Secrets

 Title: The Black Book of Secrets
Author: F. E. Higgins
Genre: Children's Fiction
Rating: 4

This book was discovered via systematically going through my local library with a mind to organize and straighten out all the juvenile novels. When I first picked it up, I thought it might be a little dark, due to the black cover and semi-Gothic designs. However, since the story appeared to be about a Black Book, I took it in stride. I realized, upon reading the opening chapter, that it would indeed be a dark story.

Enter Ludlow Fitch, a young boy of the City who flees from that deathly place and finds refuge in the person of Joe Zabbidou, Secret Pawnbroker. While Ludlow's past hounds him in the dark, his future spreads out before him as Joe takes him on as his apprentice. The two arrive in the mountain village of Pagus Parvus, where life is not sweet. Conniving 'businessman' Jeremiah Ratchet owns most of the town and most of the villagers owe him hefty sums of back rent. From this, Ratchet blackmails them into aiding him in whatever nefarious scheme he comes up with to bring comfort to himself.

Things are looking worse and worse for the town until a pawnbroker sets up shop and very subtly defies Ratchet on his own turf. Villagers begin bringing in worthless items to pawn, all of which Joe Zabbidou accepts and pays good money for. But it's the late-night visits to the pawnshop's backroom which really begin to give Jeremiah Ratchet trouble. Joe Zabbidou offers the villagers two things they can hardly refuse: relief from the burdens of all their deepest secrets, and money with which to crawl out from the thumb of Ratchet.

Ludlow is instructed to write down—word for word—the tales of woe and misery the townspeople tell each night in the Black Book of Secrets. When the tale is finished, Joe pays them. Joe, Secret Pawnbroker, is also a secret keeper; he tells Ludlow very little about himself, the Black Book, or where his wealth comes from and Ludlow is suspicious. Joe inadvertently becomes the town's hero and Ludlow begins to discover what friendship and family might really mean—all while Ratchet grows desperate to keep his hold on the town as its occupants begin a long overdue rebellion against his tyranny.

I don't think I put this book down from the moment I started reading it other than to eat and sleep. It is, as I said, a bit gloomy—as one might imagine a book of a town's darkest secrets to be—and bordering on gruesome in places, but the tone fits the story and vice-versa. There is some minor language towards the end, also. And then there's the head-hopping. The book is broken up into chapters from the first person of Ludlow and a mixture of third-person accounts—not including the first person accounts Ludlow records in the Book. The author explains this at the beginning: The first person pieces are taken from fragments of the black book and Ludlow's memoirs. The rest, Higgins claims, is what she pieced together for the in-between time. With this understanding, I let the issue of not sticking to one perspective slide.

The writing voice is clever and Higgens's use of some very cool Latin phrases makes me want to learn the language more than I did before.

Having said all that, which comes out sounding rather negative in parts, I must say that I truly did enjoy the book. The characters each had well-defined personalities, everything was explained, and the (admittedly secular) themes of confession and redemption were poignant. This was the type of story that I did not want to see come to an end—and fortunately for me, it took forever to do so. Normally it would be considered undesirable for the story to drag on long after the climax, but the continued thread of the story brought added light and warmth to the tale and I was quite satisfied with the story as a whole.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds intriguing. I might have to check this one out for myself!