Weird science, weird history, weird regulations, weird disappearances, weird murder and some very odd behaviour… Welcome to Rotherweird. I loved this book, what a joy!
A tricky one to review though, as I don’t want to risk spoiling it for anyone and it would be very easily done. I can probably just about get away with the following synopsis:
Rotherweird, in the 1500s, becomes home to twelve exceptionally gifted children, who are seen as such a threat to the Tudor monarchy, that they become secretly isolated. Then, their education begins in earnest.
Fast forward… Rotherweird in the 21st century remains an anomaly. It’s self governing, isn’t on any map and even if you found yourself at the top of Rotherweird Valley, the town itself wouldn’t be visible below.
Guidebooks describe the Rotherweird community as secretive and hostile. If you are defined as an ‘Outsider’, it means they don’t trust you and you aren’t allowed in. Unless there are exceptional circumstances. Should you live in the Rotherweird Valley, but not in the town, you are a ‘Countrysider’; thereby, not only being a bit of a bumpkin, but not to be trusted: you can be let inside the town walls if you’re useful, although not for very long. So there.
Sir Veronal Slickstone (an Outsider), for sinister reasons of his own, hires a prima-donna method actress and a young man who has, up to press, lived the veritable life of a shifty, petty street criminal. Then, forthwith, after some minor preparations, they all get into a big black luxury car and head out, off grid, into Rotherweird. And they’ve been invited. And so has a hapless history teacher called Jonah Oblong, who has been called to interview for a position at Rotherweird School. But he has to find his way there using his wits alone…
(Remember the scene in ‘Salem’s Lot, where the really bad guy turns up in a big black luxury car, and it transpires he’s arrived to take up residence in the boarded up, run down mansion, notorious with the locals? Well, it’s a bit like that.)
So, on to the things I loved about this book, and there are many. It’s very well written, unsurprising considering the author, finely balanced between comedy, adventure, fantasy and tragedy, with a touch of the gothic to it. I would genuinely struggle to assign a genre. It’s a fascinating, intriguing, unfurling macabre story, with well-named, multi-faceted characters, whose motives are difficult to fathom until the moment the author wants you to. The plot thickens all the time; I never lost interest. I did once or twice think I’d been pretty clever in working out some twists and turns, but actually the author leads you there, revealing bit by bit, quite intentionally.
I’d like to just interrupt myself here, and take a minute to pay tribute to the illustrator. She is called Sasha Laika, and she studied figurative art in Moscow. I fervently hope that the process by which she created the artwork in this book was through Andrew Caldecott providing the title of the drawing and then letting her design her wonderful illustrations to it. For example, my favourite one is entitled, ‘Oblong at the Oak: That’s the Twelve-Mile post, that’s the Rotherweird Valley, and you owe me six quid’.
They are fantastic and, even if you are a book Puritan, you may actually be a bit tempted to sharpen your coloured pencils and make a start on the front cover.
If you enjoyed Peake’s Gormenghast, I think you’ll find yourself at home here in Rotherweird. I dare say a Pratchett fan or two will find something to enjoy here too. I don’t think there are any particular age restrictions in terms of inappropriate material. Probably 11 + though, more from a comprehension standpoint than anything else. I mean, I’m 40 and I had to google some things. Ha. For anyone giving it a go, I honestly hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.
This reader will be figuratively placing her feet on the nearest decorative black or white tile in range, and enthusiastically tumbling down the weasel hole to land in Wyntertide, for the next installment.
Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott, illustrated by Sasha Laika
Published: Published June 16th 2017 by Jo Fletcher Books (first published May 18th 2017)
Original Title: Rotherweird
Edition Language: English
Series: Rotherweird #1