The Alchemist’s Shadow: The monster in the maze… and in the puppet

Watch Hollow: The Alchemist’s Shadow by Gregory FunaroWatch Hollow: The Alchemist’s Shadow by Gregory Funaro

Watch Hollow: The Alchemist’s Shadow by Gregory FunaroThe spooky adventures of Lucy and Oliver Tinker continue in The Alchemist’s Shadow (2020), a sequel to last year’s middle-grade haunted house novel by Gregory Funaro, Watch Hollow. The Tinker family — 11-year-old Lucy, 12-year-old Oliver, and their father — are settling in at the rural Rhode Island mansion, Blackford House, where they vanquished a supernatural foe in Watch Hollow. The Tinkers, originally the caretakers of Blackford House, now own the home, complete with its enormous clock that magically powers the house. At least, the Tinkers thought they owned the house, until the orphaned 12-year-old part-Japanese Kojima twins, Agatha and Algernon, show up with their British governess to take up residence, claiming that they’re the rightful heirs to the prior owner.

That’s bad enough, but within a day or so a terrifying minotaur-like monster appears in their beloved house, the twins’ governess disappears (killed by the monster, the children suspect) and the house itself begins to gradually transform into a labyrinth. After all, as Agatha observes, what’s a labyrinth without a Minotaur? Brick and wooden walls turn to grayish stone and seal off passageways, trapping the children in dangerous situations. Lucy and Oliver reluctantly realize that they’ll need the help of the twins to escape the new dangers that threaten to destroy their treasured magical house … and perhaps even them.

The Alchemist’s Shadow is a suspenseful, fast-paced story, if not quite as charming as the first book. The appealing carved wooden animals who form a part of the house’s magic clock, and who come to life, move and talk under the right (magical) conditions, play a lesser role in this sequel. The plot is a little disjointed and jumpy and doesn’t always make complete sense, like when the children decide to split their group apart in the now-haunted and monster-infested house. It felt like a horror film with teenagers inexplicably going off on their own when a killer’s on the loose. Still, there’s a lot to be said for scenes like the dining room chairs sprouting eyes and jagged teeth and chasing the kids around like a pack of wild dogs.

Watch Hollow: The Alchemist’s Shadow by Gregory FunaroThe children in The Alchemist’s Shadow include a couple of particularly memorable characters. Lucy is deeply devoted to her wooden clock animal friends. She’s impulsive, excitable, and struggles with making friends in her new town and getting along with other kids. Algernon doesn’t speak at all, due to the past trauma of losing his parents in a car accident. He always carries around a sinister-looking marionette called Samurai Kenzo, or Kenny. Lucy, steeped in the magical atmosphere of Blackford House, is convinced that Kenny is watching her and planning some evil.

Younger readers who like exciting, creepy tales should enjoy The Alchemist’s Shadow. It’s scary, but shouldn’t be too intense for all but the most sensitive middle-grade readers. There’s a heartwarming message of love and unselfishness that wraps up the story, along with a last-minute twist that opens the door for the next book in this series.

Published in February 2020. New York Times bestselling author Gregory Funaro brings us the second installment of the thrilling Watch Hollow series, where magic exists, monsters roam, and wooden animals come to life. Having defeated the Garr, a vicious tree monster who lived within the enchanted woods of Watch Hollow, Lucy and Oliver Tinker now have the home they’ve always dreamed of: Blackford House. Powered by a magical clock and full of curious rooms and improbable knickknacks, Blackford House brims with the promise of new adventures. Yet when a strange governess arrives from England — bringing with her the Kojima twins, Agatha and Algernon — the Tinker children’s once bright future quickly begins to dim. The Kojimas claim to be the rightful heirs to Blackford House, and soon after their arrival, a great evil enters the Tinkers’ new home, cursing it and turning it into an ever-changing labyrinth. As a result, Lucy and Oliver, along with their clock animal friends, must now join forces with the twins to escape this labyrinth and save Blackford House, all while a new monster lurks around the corner.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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