11. The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken
Publication: Starscape (February 17, 2003) (originally published 1980), Paperback, 192pp / ISBN 0765345307
Genre: Paranormal, MG/YA
Read: January 17, 2010
Summary from Amazon:
After the mysterious disappearance of both his mother and older brother, Cosmo is sent away to live with his eccentric mathematician aunt. Lonely and confused, Cosmo must also deal with being the new kid at school. Not an easy assignment! But things take a weird twist when Cosmo is visited by ghosts from the past. Ghosts who claim to need his help fighting an ancient curse!
Only in time will Cosmo learn that he is at the center of that ancient…and deadly…curse.
I’m not sure exactly where I heard of this book, but it was either through one of you lot or through one of those “if you like that book you might like this one” things. Whoever it was must ave known my taste in books quite well, because I really like this book!
Immediately, the writing reminded me of a kind of mix of Diana Wynne Jones and the Green Knowe books. Well done, there. Then the plot reminded me a little of a Rosemary Sutcliff book if RS had done books set in modern times with ghosts. Well done there, too. Cosmo, the protagonist, goes to a boarding school during the week. I love boarding schools! And stories set in them! (Although the paranormal bits in this book all take place at Cosmo’s weekend home.) And, finally, the clincher: Cosmo is an inquisitive, bright, friendly kid who loves the outdoors and writes in a journal and tends to repress things a little bit. Yay!
The ghosts were, for the most part, not scary. In fact, everyone who learned about the ghosts somehow weren’t scared of them and yet absolutely believed in them. A little bit strange, but it was nice not to have to worry about Cosmo having to force his family to believe him about the ghosts and they won’t, and then something happens to convince them and it’s all tiring. Just accepting things are a bit weird in the family was a nice change. Plus, actually, they should be used to weird things happening in their family anyway– they have a curse on them that works.
I think also that my having to accept that everyone else accepts ghosts so matter-of-factly made me accept other things that maybe I wouldn’t have normally. It’s like, this book is already weird enough, so everything else weird that happens must fit in somehow. Now, does that make this a bad or a good book? I enjoyed reading it. But the plot is sort of mad. Don’t know.
I really liked the writing, and how the plot sort of just…flows. It all flows together and it’s really relaxing for some reason. The atmosphere is really lovely, too; it takes place in Oxford and a bit of the country, and it’s very British and wonderful. However, there were some unanswered questions and other strange plot points that kept me from absolutely loving the book. And the end! It was ambiguous (and depressing, in a way). I really dislike ambiguous endings in kidlit.
But the rest of The Shadow Guests, the bits I did like– I liked a lot. I’ll definitely try out a few more Joan Aiken books! But I hope the others don’t force me to accept insane plot points like this one did.
Time for an anecdote: when I told my mother that I was reading a book called “The Shadow Guests” she immediately asked if there was ghosts in it. How did she know that? She’s never read the book before. Is “shadow guests” slang for ghosts? It must be, but I’ve never heard of it.