Top critical review
8 people found this helpful
on 6 November 2009
Such a disappointment.
Occasionally there would be details that filled me with delight: the Sleer, the ghoul gate, the fact that Bod finds sleeping in a tomb totally natural, the way he learnt history from ghosts and this was often considered incorrect history when he briefly went to school. And I'll give Gaiman a lot of credit for the ending. He had Bod engineering the bad guys' ends, from various things he'd encountered in earlier years. Bod actively defended the graveyard. It made the story wrap up much tighter than I'd expected -- and that worked for me -- but it didn't prevent the book, overall, from feeling too thin.
Scarlett (a regular girl) says to Bod, after he's disposed of the bad guys:
"You aren't a person. People don't behave like you. You're as bad as he was. You're a monster."
And herein lies my biggest problem with this book: Bod is quite the opposite to Scarlett's accusation. He's too normal.
Bod is raised in a graveyard by ghosts and a probably-a-vampire. The details I mentioned above are wonderful, these little hints that Bod is fundamentally different to other children. But they were just hints, little personality quirks, and my overwhelming impression was of a normal boy who just happened to live in a graveyard. I think part of the problem is the length and format of the book. It's episodic, with little adventures or events being the focus of each chapter, and it's not very long. It doesn't take the time to really delve into what it means for Bod to have his upbringing; it's more about adventure than character-study. And I really wanted the latter.
In terms of his character, well, at least he's more active than Shadow and the Neverwhere guy. He tries to be kind to Liza, he goes after the bully at school, he saves himself at the end. He's curious and kind-hearted, but he's quite... bland. Liza (a ghost witch) is the most interesting character of them all. I loved how she bitterly related what happened her; she really had a voice.
She got a personality transplant later, though, when Bod becomes a teenager and she gets moody because that's what teenaged girls do with teenaged boys, yes?
Gaiman managed to pull out several of my Big Dislikes in fiction towards the end: the bad guys reveal important information to the good guy, a prophecy is involved, and at the very end, Bod loses his magical abilities the graveyard gave him for no particular reason. (Maybe the ghosts intentionally did it, not it automatically happening because he was older, but because they thought he needed to be among live people? If so, I think that could have been brought out a little more. Magic just fading with age is dumb.)
Another annoying episode was where Bod goes to school. He adapted very quickly, despite growing up in a graveyard, and quickly pursues bullies.
Admittedly, the ghosts are pretty much regular people with funny speech patterns and some cultural differences. But that could have been played on more -- making Bod struggle to fit in with 21st C kids, when he plays with kids from throughout the centuries. Even with Silas' modernising influence, I think Bod should have been at a slight cultural disconnect.
Overall: while I enjoyed little aspects of the book, it badly failed on the too-normal character of Bod and decreasingly interesting plot.