Friday, December 2, 2011

Stoneheart, by Charlie Fletcher


Young George Chapman is having a very bad day.  In a fit of rage, he broke the head off a stone dragon outside the Natural History Museum, and now he's running for his life from gargoyles, dragons, minotaurs, and monsters as the statues of London come alive!  Somehow, George is the only one who can see them--well, George and a young runaway named Edie, a 'glint' who can see the past.  With the help of some human statues ('spits'), George and Edie try to figure out why the evil statues ('taints') want him dead.

This is a fantastic concept, very reminiscent of the superior (and more adult) Neverwhere. And a fun read, even if Fletcher is not as strong or whimsical a writer as Gaiman.  There's tons of action, and the descriptions are vivid.  With so many fantastic creatures, the book simply cries out for a film adaptation (which is already rumored to be in the works, so here's hoping they don't botch it). 

And it's not just a fun adventure--there are some sophisticated themes here, as George and Edie deal with guilt, loss, fear, courage, and sacrifice.  Both George and Edie start out as loners, coping with their different betrayals and abandonments by alienating and avoiding others.  But their shared experiences (and the selfless loyalty and courage of a particular 'spit') gradually break down their internal walls and teach them the value of friendship.

This is the first entry in a trilogy, and Fletcher does an excellent job avoiding the usual 'book one' pitfalls.  Rather than cheating by leaving the reader hanging, he resolves the primary story arc while still leaving plenty of room for future installments.   

Fletcher, or the publishers, wisely opted to have the story read by Jim Dale, the inimitable narrator of the fantastic Harry Potter audiobooks, and the result is impressive.  Fletcher's strength lies in his imagination, not his writing style, and Dale's narration elevates the otherwise average prose to a higher level.

Bottom line:  An exciting, imaginitive story filled with wonder and danger.  Great for kids, though I suspect plenty of grown-ups will enjoy it, too. 

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