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Pleasing but unoriginal
on 21 September 2009
"The Black Book of Secrets" is the story of a young boy, Ludlow Fitch, who lives a miserable existence in a horrible city. His parents scheme to make money out of him, no matter what the cost to their son, so unsurprisingly, he runs away. He meets Joe Zabbidou, a pawnbroker who buys people's secrets, and becomes employed as his scribe, to write down what he hears in the mysterious black book.
This is an entertaining children's dark fantasy, in a very similar vein to the Joseph Delaney "Spook" series, but perhaps aimed at a slightly younger readership - say 12ish, rather than 14. For those who like dark fantasy, this will be another enjoyable read, although personally I was a bit disappointed to see how similar it was to Delaney's work. The characters and the settings are well described, although it lacks the haunting atmosphere that Delaney manages to infuse his locations with - perhaps because Delaney bases his locations on real places in the north west of England. The city and the village in this book felt like they could have been anywhere, although the city was revoltingly and entertainingly described.
There were a couple of issues with point of view of the characters early on in the book, that I found irritating. One moment we were inside Joe's head as he describes Ludlow, the next moment we're hearing Ludlow's thoughts, with no warning. I read the same paragraph several times before I could be sure who was thinking what. In the past, once an author had identified whose point of view a story was being told from, they were advised to stick with it, or only change it at the start of a new chapter. These days the rules of good writing are less rigid, but it can still be confusing for the reader if an author jumps from one head to another without warning.
Overall though, it was a good read, and providing you haven't read Delaney, an original one.