I initially said after finishing this book that I wished I had been able to read it when I was younger. And that’s still true. With the passage of time, I find myself remembering the book with a smile, but I don’t feel an urge to buy it for Owen’s Future Shelf, nor do I recall any details very strongly.
However, I feel that the major praise I had for it still demands mention and regard. There was not a single moment that I wanted to stop reading. Nothing annoyed me, so I didn’t actively seek a break. Sometimes while reading, my attention starts to drift and I take a break, often spent considering what other books I could be reading. That didn’t happen even once with this book.
Need more conventional praise? The pacing is pretty good. There is no filler, events are not stretched to the point of being drawn out, and there aren’t any out of left field developments, so it’s also straightforward. And by “left field,” I mean out of place, not that there are not good twists. The plot is wonderful, if simple, and I loved the main character, Victoria. I liked all of the characters, even though the cast is not large. Mrs Cavendish reminded me of the Other Mother.
But my good opinion is strongly predicated on how much I loved its abstinence. It refrained from irritating me. The main character is a person who did not descend to being an archetype, Mary Sue/Anti Sue, “strong” female character, or any other tedious shortcut. The writing is exactly as good as it needs to be, and does not extend to being overly artsy or purple.
It does use the trope Adults Are Useless, but for an incredibly good reason. Victoria actually goes to adults for help. She even has a major roadblock in understanding that they can’t help. Not why, exactly, but the concept of adults being unable to help. It was all so very well-explained that I didn’t see an unfortunate message about not trusting adults or whatever.
Given all of this, I do feel a little awkward rating this highly and saying, “because it didn’t do stupid things!” It’s not one I hold up there with my favourites, like Absolute Midnight or The Egyptologist. Saying something is “perfect” conjures images of immaculate cakes that are moist and lovely. This is more of a fruit salad that isn’t boring or made with inferior ingredients. It’s not a cake, but it’s still damn good and I want more of the same calibre.
Another reason I wish I could have read it during my more formative years is that some of the content is deliciously frightening. I’m a horrible coward about bugs, ask anyone. In this book, the bugs are evil minions that can pinch you.
The actual, eheh, “teaching methods” of the school made me think of Umbridge, from Harry Potter. Except that this story had an actual conclusion. And the way the children were treated was actually addressed by the grown-ups who could remember that they went missing/[/spoiler]
And I still don’t know how I feel about the epilogue. Though it does seem that there is not a book two for certain, so I’m less bothered about it.