The Malamander reminds me of a cross between A Series Of Unfortunate Events and Lovecraftian horror. This book is perfectly strange and creepy while not crossing the boundary into adult horror. The Malamander is a middle grade novel and it does a good job of keeping with that age group.
The Malamander is about Herbert Lemon a kid who washed up in a lemon crate in the town of Eerie-on-sea, he is the Lost-and-founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. He is very good at his job but life flips upside down when he meets Violet Parma, a girl his age who also has a history at The Grand Nautilus Hotel. Together they embark on an adventure to find Violet’s missing parents that leads them into the den of the Malamander.
The contrast between Herbert and Violet makes the perfect mystery partnership, Violet is fearless and stubborn while Herbert is extremely intelligent but fearful. Together they complete the duo and are a force to be reckoned with. They unravel the mystery of the Malamander and find clues that very well could lead to Violet’s parents. I enjoyed the relationship between the two protagonists, they keep each other going. Violet encourages Herbert to keep going even when he is scared out of his pants, and Herbert uses his knowledge to keep Violet on the right track. The characters flowed together seamlessly and it made the book enjoyable.
Something that I think works well in kids novels is the use of clever character names. In The Malamander we have Mr. Mollusc, Sebastian Eels, Mrs. Fossil, and Mr. Seegol. The names are nautical themed and also reveal something about each character. This is something I have poked fun at in adult books but for work aimed at middle graders I think it was done well. This works because it is fun and makes the characters easier to remember for younger audiences, plus it’s a little funny.
This book is creepy enough for its young audience but not so creepy that a child will be afraid to sleep, and to me that awareness of audience is something to be admired. Here is an example of one of the “scary” scenes:
Where its eyes should be, there are two enormous pale reflectors. They blink, twice. Then it moves off– darting from its crouch and springing along the murky foreshore at great speed, its feet slap, slap, slapping as it vanishes in a swirl of mist.
The description is creepy but not horrifying, I like that and the imagery used by Taylor is so easy to see. With every description you can see the characters and the scenery they live in. I found that Taylor’s writing swallowed me whole and spit me out in the strange town of Eerie-on-sea. Not only is Taylor wonderful at setting scene, but he is accompanied by the illustrator Tom Booth who breathes life into each character. Unfortunately, because this is an ARC, I didn’t get to see all of Booth’s illustrations but from what I did see I was strongly reminded of Tim Burton. The characters are dark and gloomy but there is still something heart-warming about them.
This book is a fairly short read and I could imagine a teacher reading this book to their class for Halloween. It’s quick, entertaining, and I could see myself reading this to my son when he is older. The Malamander really impressed me and in my eyes deserves a 5/5 stars.
Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book and also thank you to Candlewick Press for granting me access to The Malamander.