Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (6): The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding ★★★★★

"Friday Flashback" is a weekly feature created by JG, The Introverted Reader.
Disclaimer: Some of these reviews may not be the best I've ever written, so just be forewarned! ;)

The Haunting Of Alaizabel Cray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was browsing the YA section of my local library and I stumbled across this book. Or maybe I should say that it called out to me. The blurry cathedral on the cover just promised to be dark and mysterious. I'm a sucker for dark, broody, creepy, gothic (etc) type stories, and this delivered just that.

I haven't read anything by Chris Wooding before, in fact, I'd never even heard of him until I picked up this book. As soon as I'm done writing this review, I'm going to be adding his other books to my TBR. I only hope that they live up to the expectations I have from this book.

The story takes place in an alternate version of Victorian London, a bleak and foreboding place where night is treacherous and unpredictable, wych-kin roam and wreak havoc and serial killers pick their victims off with shocking ease.

We first meet Thaniel Fox, son of England's most reknown wych-hunter, on the hunt for a Cradle-Jack which has been plucking babies from their cribs for a tasty little midnight snack. Thaniel is independent, courageous, smart, resourceful and compassionate - all the things that an English gentleman should be. Add to that that he is simply bad-ass, and you have the making of one sexy hero. His fight with Curien Blake was... well, it was exciting to read and too short. I'll just put it that way. There's just something about a man with a big knife that knows how to use it that gets my blood flowing. :)

Anyway, so we meet Thaniel, and soon meet with a mysterious girl that is in obvious need of help. He brings her back to the house that he shares with Cathaline Bennett, another wych-hunter and Thaniel's tutor, if you will. The three of them discover that there is an ancient wych possessing Alaizabel, and embark on a journey to find out why, and how to get the wych out of her. From there, everything starts to go downhill, and the shocks just keep coming.

I loved all of the characters in the story. They all felt real, and acted according to how real people would act. The romance bits between Thaniel and Alaizabel were a little rushed, but I can overlook that when I consider that he saved her and therefore felt responsible for her, and she was saved and was grateful. Both of those things can easily run a bit deeper, especially among teens who have both been alone for a large amount of their lives. To suddenly meet someone that plays such a role in your life, I would imagine that's a kind of big change.

I also really loved the London that Wooding created here, complete with it's own Jack the Ripper-esque killer, Stitch-face. It was dark and creepy and definitely not the place one would want to take a casual midnight stroll. I loved all of the little mini-stories that he incorporated into the bigger London-story. It gave me an idea not only of what the city as a whole was facing, but who the people facing it actually were, and what kind of people a city this dark and menacing breeds. It's unforgiving, and that's represented in the characters depicted. I thought that it was a nice touch to add those little personalizations, even if they were only a page or two long.

Wooding's imagination is awesome when it comes to the creatures that he brings to life here. I've read a goodish amount of horror in my life, but there were things in this book that gave me goosebumps, and that's not an exaggeration. The thing on the ceiling of Alaizabel's bedroom is seared into my memory as if I saw it myself, which is pretty commendable, as it was only very roughly described. I think that's a testament to a good author, to be able to subtly show us each what we fear without describing it into the light of perfect knowledge. Once we know what the heck we're dealing with, it's not nearly as scary as when we have no idea what's chasing us.

I also loved the blending of mechanical inventions and superstition here. Airships on one hand, and cultish Rites and ceremonies and charms on the other. Wooding perfectly brought these two very disparate things together in this book, and made it believable and plausible. I really loved it, and look forward to more from him. :)

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