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Customer Review

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A world of magic, 26 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Spiderwick Chronicles, Cycle 1 (Movie Tie-In Box Set): The Field Guide, the Seeing Stone, Lucinda's Secret, the Ironwood Tree, the Wrath of Mulgarath (The Spiderwick Chronicles) (Hardcover)
According to Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, the text of this story was left for them by three mystery kids.

With that stab at blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality, these two authors slip easily into a haunted house tale that rapidly blossoms into a story of hidden fae and strange creatures. "The Spiderwick Chronicles (Boxed Set)" brings together five extremely brief little books that form one overarcing story, which becomes more tense and eerie as it winds to the inevitable battle with the Big Bad.

After their parents' divorce, the Grace kids -- teenage Mallory and nine-year-old twins Jared and Simon -- move with their mother to a crumbling old Victorian house, owned by a weird old aunt. Jared is having a rough time with all of this, but he's distracted from his personal woes by a "squirrel" scuttling around inside the walls. And their investigations reveal a strange little stash of items that were obviously not taken by a squirrel.

An exploratory trip in a dumbwaiter takes Jared to a hidden library full of strange books on mythic creatures -- and soon strange things start happening to the family. Jared's further investigations uncover a strange little book called "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide To The Fantastical World Around You," a little guide to faery creatures. Jared begins to believe that the unbelievable might be true -- that there are faeries causing trouble in his new home.

But it becomes painfully obvious what is up when various creatures try to get ahold of the book -- Simon is kidnapped by omnivorous goblins, a search for Arthur Spiderwick leads the kids into a elven trap deep in the woods, and Mallory is sealed in a glass box by malevolent dwarves deep inside an old quarry. But the one who really wants the Guide is Mulgarath, a terrible creature who (surprise!) wants to conquer the world -- and he'll take their mother to accomplish it.

For the record, this is a short series full of short books. Each book is only about a hundred pages of heavily-illustrated text, and we're not talking large pages. They're more like the chapters of a longer novel, meaning that older children and adults will find them ultra-quick and simple.

But Holly Black's writing style definitely makes it worth reading (such as the descriptions of stalactites "hanging above them like a forest of icicles"). Though the storyline is pretty simple, she weaves a web of subtle, eerie strangeness around the seemingly ordinary circumstances (such as elderly, seemingly batty Aunt Lucinda), to the point where you can almost believe that missing cats were eaten by hobgoblins.

And despite the Victorian house, the sprites and faery creatures here are anything but Victorian -- sometimes ugly, bizarre or malicious, and with their own strange ways (the beautiful, ruthless elves) and preoccupation (the dwarves' obsession with making forests of "ironwood" trees). And there are plenty of weird side-creatures: lake trolls, fey doppelgangers, metal dogs, haughty nature-robed elves, a "knocker" who escorts the kids underground, and so on.

And Tony DiTerlizzi's artwork is simply perfect for the story that he and Black are telling. He crafts lots of intricate pen-and-ink drawings, shadowy depictions of the decayed Victorian mansion, and illustrations of the weirder aspects of the Spiderwick estate (like the dusty library, or Mallory suspended in a glass box in medieval clothes). There are even pages and scribbled-on pages from Arthur Spiderwick, expulsion notices, and more.

The main characters are also quite believable: Mallory is a loving but slightly brittle teenager, and the mom is clearly struggling to stay afloat after her divorce. Simon is a tidy animal enthusiast, while the more prominent Jared is a kid who is starting to sink into trouble after his parents' divorce, only to find new and unexpected strength when he discovers the world of the Guide. The biggest problem is that the kids bicker a lot, which becomes a bit tedious after awhile -- even if it is likely.

"The Spiderwick Chronicles" is a solid brief story spread over five small books, building up a sense of suspense, eerie fantasy and otherworldly creatures. Beautifully written if a wee bit simple for older readers.
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