THE GLASS DEMON by Helen Grant

Book Quote:

“I didn’t believe in demons; I ranked them with ghosts and vampires and werewolves, as products of a fevered imagination, or phenomena with a perfectly rational explanation. I did not realize yet, that summer when I was seventeen and my sister Polly was still alive, when the sun was shining and even the wind was warm and my whole body was restless, that there are worse things than being stuck in a small town for a year.  There are demons, and they are more terrible than we can imagine.”

Book Review:

Review by Lynn Harnett  (AUG 27, 2011)

The narrator’s father, Dr. Oliver Fox, a professor seeking fame and fortune, provides the catalyst for the eerie and violent events of Linden’s second (after The Vanishing of Katharina Linden) novel, a finely crafted literary tale of psychological terror.

But it’s the narrator herself, his 17-year-old daughter Lin, who finds herself at the center of it all, trying to control events that threaten to tear her family apart, events that are far beyond her understanding, much less her ability to manipulate. Indeed, her attempts to take matters into her own impatient hands make things worse.

From the first page, we know people will die, including Lin’s sister Polly.

“If anyone were to ask me, ‘What is the root of all evil?’ I would say not ‘Money,’ but ‘Food.’ It was food – specifically the lack of it – that killed my sister, or at least assisted at the death. And the old man that day in the orchard in Niederburgheim was the only person I have ever seen who died of eating an apple.”

Grant opens the novel with the Fox family – Oliver, his wife Tuesday, Lin, Polly and baby brother Reuben – nearly at the end of their road trip from their home in England to a small rural town in Germany.

A local historian has invited Oliver to come and research the famous, exquisite Allerheiligen stained glass, medieval masterpieces which have been lost to the world for more than 200 years and may well have been destroyed. They are also, legend has it, haunted, by the demon Bonchariant.

Lost, they pull to the side of the road to ask directions, but the man who appears to be sleeping in an apple orchard is actually dead (probably having fallen off his ladder), an apple with one bite taken beside him, the ground oddly littered with glass sparkling in the sunlight.

Oliver, unwilling to get involved, drives on, leaving the body for someone else to discover. Eventually they find the crumbling castle they have rented so Oliver can conduct his research from a suitably atmospheric base. These priceless windows will make Oliver’s reputation if he can only find them, but to begin with he is unable even to find the local man who invited him to come.

Eventually he tracks down the man’s address but Herr Heinrich Mahlberg no longer lives there. He has recently died, having suffered an accident in his bath. The other locals are not nearly as welcoming as Herr Mahlberg promised to be. One local historian offers to share his notes – handwritten in German – but assures Oliver he is wasting his time as the windows were destroyed by the French in the 19th century, the letter describing the destruction itself destroyed in the last war’s bombings.

Meanwhile Lin (who speaks fluent German) has started school and been thrown together with the boy next door – or, in this case, the boy on an uninviting farm the other side of the spooky woods. Michel drives her to school each morning, his crush painfully obvious, and unrequited.

Threats against the family mount as their isolation increases. Inexplicable events – all involving broken bits of glass – begin to loom larger as the family feels itself hounded by superstition or, as Lin begins to think, by the Bonchariant demon who inhabits the famous glass.

Mostly unable to speak the language and shunned by the locals, the atmosphere thickens around the isolated Fox family, while Lin finds herself becoming more deeply swept up in the ancient myths surrounding the glass.

Grant uses a winning combination of psychological tension and local folkloric atmosphere to advance her tale, building suspense and dread as she goes, much as she did in her first novel.

There is one problem however, which may not bother the YA audience the story is at least partly aimed at. Lin is a sulky teenager and for me at least, this grows tiresome. She’s always complaining about mess and other peoples’ self-centeredness but never lifts a finger to help with all the chores that don’t get done, or get left to her anorexic sister, Polly.

However, Grant delivers a smashing conclusion and by the end of the book most readers will have forgiven Lin her teen brattiness.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 4 readers
PUBLISHER: Bantam; Original edition (June 14, 2011)
REVIEWER: Lynn Harnett
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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August 27, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, Germany, Mystery/Suspense, Psychological Suspense, Speculative (Beyond Reality)

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