The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

“The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.” And from this point forward I was so thoroughly pulled into young Harvey’s life that I forgot my own for a couple of days.

Bored by the dreary month of February, Harvey wishes to have some fun and is rewarded by the appearance of Mr. Rictus, whose name alone should give some indication of foreboding. Mr. Rictus promises to take Harvey away from his horrible doldrums to an enchanting place called the Holiday House where he can have fun all the day long everyday.

Of course, there’s a price to be paid for a life of non-stop fun, but Barker has created an engaging hero in Harvey and carries him through his adventures with grace and imagination. Barker also illustrates this novel with images that can be more disturbing than the text in some places, but the overall effect is marvelous.

This is not a trite young adult novel where everything works out peachy with no ramifications for the protagonist. A lesson learned through adversity can be the most treasured lesson of all, and there is a definite feeling at the end of this novel that Harvey will carry the lessons learned from Holiday House like a childhood scar. Creepy, engaging, and populated with fascinating characters, The Thief of Always is a treat.

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Grendel by John Gardner

Books, books, boxes of books, glittering my world are books and in this great accumulation are jewels, gems of such rare note and beauty that I read them again and again.  Grendel is one such book.

We all know the fabled story of Beowulf, greatest of Geats and hearth-companion of King Hygilac, but here is the story of Grendel, poor misunderstood monster haunting the mere and Hrothgar’s meadhall. The epic poem of “Beowulf” is retold through Grendel’s point of view as he grows up on the mere and watches Hrothgar make war on his neighbors to amass riches and warriors. One night a blind harpist comes to Hrothgar’s hall and his poetry changes their collective world by transmuting their past with the magic of words and song. Even Grendel is moved by the Shaper’s magnificent phrases and golden lies to remember Hrothgar’s past as the glorious event it never was. Stunned by the beauty of the Shaper’s songs, Grendel puzzles over the meaning of his own miserable existence until he meets the dragon.

The dragon informs Grendel that violence and fear motivates men to prominence, driving them to science, religion, and knowledge. The dragon’s discourse with Grendel leaves him disturbed, but Grendel never stops searching for the truth and is ever disappointed to find the deities created by man unworthy of veneration. Inflamed at the weary light of man’s blind hope in a universe rushing into nothingness, Grendel becomes an active participant in Hrothgar’s history; a ferocious weaver of words and killer of thanes is Grendel, Cain’s lost son.

Comic and bewitching, Grendel will leave you pondering the majesty of poetry, the futility of religion, and the terror of ridiculous monsters deep into the night.

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