This novel is what happens when fairy-tales collide. Connolly isn’t the first author to tackled the dark themes of the well-known, Disney adapted classic Grim’s stories, but he is the first not just to obfuscate them, but to twist a string of them together into a single plotline. And it works too.
Your protagonist is the disgruntled twelve-year-old David who like many step-children is fed up with his new step-mother and step-brother. Not only is he mourning for his mother, but he’s having inexplicable schizophrenic moments where his books are whispering to him, and a strange man is hanging around in his bedroom. While trying to escape an attack from a WWII German bomber, David finds himself whisked into a world constructed partially from his imagination, and partially from nightmarish adult realities.
Connolly has crafted a fantastically eerie and twisted world filled with warped versions of trusted childhood characters. Snow white is a gluttonous oppressor, for example, and a secretive king dwells dying at the centre of a warring kingdom. However, this book is not for children. Violent, bazaar and very unrealistic events keep the atmosphere of the storyline damp, but tense, as David develops from a confused and angry child, into a young man who must save himself from this terrifying world. Through these narrative events, the author cleverly and subtlety portrays ideas about childhood, and what it means to grow into a compassionate adult, against the frightening backdrop of his horror-world (which may also be influenced by the real world backdrop of war). There are moments of heart-stopping violence as he reveals the power of the human imagination over our rationals and morals. Like all fairy-tales there are lessons to be learned, and prices to be paid.
The ending drags out longer than necessary, but otherwise the pace of this work is quick, and beautifully written. Connolly’s style is raw and emotional, but also fantastical and clear, as he weaves an adult story through the eyes of an adolescent boy you’ll rapidly grow attached to.