Grubb, age twelve (or thereabouts), has never known anything beyond his miserable existence as a chimney sweep, paid only in insults and abuse by his cruel master.
All of that changes the day he stows away in the coach belonging to a mysterious guest at the inn that he is tasked with cleaning. Grubb emerges from Alistair Grim's trunk and into the wondrous world of the Odditorium. Fueled by a glowing blue energy that Grubb can only begin to understand, the Odditorium is home to countless enchanted objects and an eccentric crew that embraces Grubb as one of their own.
There's no time for Grubb to settle into his new role as apprentice to the strange, secretive Mr. Grim. When the Odditorium comes under attack, Grubb is whisked off on a perilous adventure. Only he can prevent the Odditorium's magic from falling into evil hands-and his new family from suffering a terrible fate.
Grubb knows he's no hero. He's just a chimney sweep. But armed with only his courage and wits, Grubb will confront the life-or-death battle he alone is destined to fight.
I picked this book up right away when I saw the description (above) because it reminded me a lot of Howl's Moving Castle. I love the idea of magical houses and fighting off demons and all that, and the rest seemed fun enough: a chimney sweep stowaway, magical creatures, and the families we choose.
I wasn't disappointed: Alistair Grim's Odditorium is a fun read. It's written in the first person (perspective of Grubb) in a super conversational tone, one you can't help but put a voice to and imagine narrating over some animated version of what you're reading. Being a book for younger readers (grades 3-7), there was a lot of repetition in the form of catch phrases and little quirks of the various characters, but that didn't bother me all that much as an adult reader. And for the kids who need a little extra help sorting out who and what everything is, there's a super helpful glossary at the back of the book.
The illustrations are absolutely fantastic. I was delighted by Vivienne To's work in the book, which wasn't just little general sketches to set the scene for any one chapter, but very specific depictions of what was going on. She captures the mood and urgency and, sometimes, total scariness of some scenes wonderfully. I only wish there had been more pictures, haha. For a look at To's work, here's a link to her website. You can also follow her work on Tumblr.
The Odditorium was fun to explore with Grubb. It wasn't overly-complicated, which is a big plus, and everything was paced rather well. There was even a point where Grubb took the time to explain something that he didn't know at the the time of his narrative in order to help the reader visualize the situation he was in better - that's something I like about first person storytelling when done right. I also love that Mr Grim controls the Odditorium with a huge organ, as it added an amazing soundtrack in my brain to some scenes.
I recommend picking this book up when it's released January 2015, particularly if you've got a kid to share the story with. Of course, if you're the type to read children's fiction on your own, this is, again, a fun ride and a nice addition to the reading pile. It's a long read, which I think is pretty great; a good challenge for younger readers, though that might work against it finding a wide audience. It's also the first in a series, which, again, I think is great. I was interested enough in what happens next that I definitely see myself reading on.
Bonus: if you're interested in seeing how the book cover was created, the story and work behind it by Su Blackwell is pretty amazing - that's a paper model of the Odditorium!
Disclaimer/transparency: I received this ARC via Netgalley.