Published by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) on June 14th 2016
Source: Publisher Provided
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I received this book for free from Publisher Provided in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A long undisturbed bedroom. A startling likeness. A mysterious friend.
When twelve-year-old Prince Lev Lvov goes to live with his aunt at Falcon House, he takes his rightful place as heir to the Lvov family estate. Prince Lev dreams of becoming a hero of Russia like his great ancestors. But he'll discover that dark secrets haunt this house. Prince Lev is the only one who can set them free-will he be the hero his family needs?
In a strange house with a stranger history, 12-year-old Lev begins to unravel family secrets that have been carefully hidden. Lev’s sudden ability to draw makes the illustrations in the book somehow more real. They are a part of the story and not just pictures showing the story. The family Lev finds at his grandfather’s old estate is filled with mysterious characters like a gray, little boy named Vanyousha.
As the story unfolds, we find ourselves in a story that brings a sad dread with it. Slowly, Lev begins to realize that there is more to his grandfather than the General he knew. The themes of destiny, friendship and family secrets are explored beautifully in this deeper-than-you-first-think mystery.
This is a wonderfully creepy tale for middle grade readers (ages 9-12 would be best) and perfect for our spooky autumn days. It’s also a good way to introduce children to historical novels (historical Imperial Russia is a richly layered place to start) because the mystery will pull the readers through the history with an undeniable tension. I’m planning on re-reading it with my tween who loves history, but hasn’t gotten into reading mysteries. She loves a bit of a sad story, too and The Haunting of Falcon House will definitely satisfy that, too.
We have an excerpt for you to share, so you can see how Eugene incorporates footnotes in his writing. They add an extra dimension of explanation that help frame the context and background of them moments he explained:
Excerpt #3 (p. 266-270)
I slipped into the room, quietly closed the door behind me, and peered into the gloom at the edges of my grandfather’s chamber.
“Come out, Vanyousha,” I whispered. “I know everything.”
The candle flames flared from the sound of my voice, but the chamber held its grave-like silence. From the uncovered portrait, Grandfather stared out of his painted eyes, and in the mirror across the room, his stare was repeated. I shuddered, caught between two pairs of eyes that seemed to burn right through me, but I made myself hold the stare. Had I looked away, I would have missed a sheet of paper lying on the floor that I could only see reflected in the mirror—the chair made of antlers obscured it from the position at the door. The paper lay beside the fireplace, whose throbbing light in turns illuminated the paper or concealed it under a leaping shadow. I couldn’t look away from the scrap of paper, as if some unknown force riveted my sight to it. Without knowing what precisely, I knew that I had to do something to that sheet of paper. Something I had left unfinished.
Reluctantly, I stepped into the room. When I reached the chair made of antlers and knelt beside it to lift the paper off the floor, I had an uncanny feeling that the spikes were about to plunge into my hand. I snatched the paper, leaped back, and glared at the chair with suspicion. It stood as rigid as any chair.
I brought the paper to the desk and sat behind it. I suppose I’d known all along what was on that paper. The same confused perspective, uncertain contours, odd shapes, and, hideously slanted, a shadow of a human figure. It was the drawing of the chamber I had begun last night, continued sketching in my sleep, but had left unfinished.
I moved the candlestick a little closer, took the pen, blackened its nib in the inkwell, and held the pen over the sketch, uncertain how to proceed, or even whether I should proceed.
The candle flickered. The pen’s shadow pulsated upon the drawing. A bead of ink, glistening below the nib, swelled slowly to a larger droplet, broke off, and fell. Inexplicably, I watched the droplet tumble for the longest time, observing in exact detail the way it stretched and shrunk before it hit the paper. When the droplet burst in total silence, the candle flared, and I felt an odd sensation in my arm, as if I had knocked my elbow against some solid object. My whole arm turned numb and tingled down to my fingertips. I could no longer feel the pen and wanted to let it go, but my fingers did not obey me. Instead, they gripped the pen so hard my knuckles drained of blood.
There was a jolt at my shoulder and then another at my elbow, and all at once my hand began to move. The pen screeched across the paper, making rapid marks. Repeatedly I tried to stop my hand from moving but couldn’t. It was as if someone else’s hand, invisible but firm, was forcing my pen to move.
Soon the nib ran dry and began to scratch and shred the paper. I felt a grasp round my upper arm and, in a panic, saw my hand darting to the inkwell, blackening the nip, and darting back. I didn’t know I was crying until my tears fell and mixed with the ink over the mangled paper. Furiously the pen continued moving. I clenched my teeth and gripped my right hand with my left to halt the movement. At once, some uncanny force flung aside my left hand to prevent it from meddling. I tried to rise, but my legs had no strength. My whole body violently trembled. My hand continued moving. In the dead air of the room, the only sounds were of the scratching pen and of my sobs. Suddenly I heard a scream. It was horrifying! For an instant I couldn’t understand who was screaming, but then I understood that it was I. My hand tossed the pen aside, rose above my head, and came down hard, smashing its knuckles against the drawing. My screaming ceased.
Panting, I sat gazing at my hand. Now at rest, it lay palm up, fingers trembling lightly. I tried to move my arm, and it obediently followed. The spell was over.17
17Prince Lev’s narration of completing the chamber sketch is the most detailed description of automatism that I have ever come across. Automatism is the involuntary muscular movement in a living person caused by a spirit. Such movement is often manifested in automatic writing or automatic drawing, during which the spirit takes possession of a person’s hand holding a pencil to paper. Persons with psychic abilities regularly employ automatic writing in order to deliver messages from the dead.
Thanks to Eugene and Henry Holt & Co., we are joining in the blog tour giveaway:
For more chances to win the book, read reviews, excerpts and interviews, be sure to check out the remaining tour stops:
10/27/2016- IceyBooks- Excerpt
10/28/2016- The Reading Nook Reviews- Review
10/29/2016- BookHounds YA- Interview
10/30/2016- Mundie Moms/Mundie Kids- Excerpt
10/31/2016- Page Turners Blog- Review
Eugene Yelchin is a Russian born author and illustrator of children’s books.
In 2012, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, a middle grade novel that he had written and illustrated received a Newbery Honor award. Horn Book magazine called Breaking Stalin’s Nose one of the Best Books of 2011. In 2010, the picture book Rooster Prince of Breslov that he illustrated received the National Jewish Book Award. In 2006, he received a Tomie de Paola award. His other books received starred reviews, and were on Children’s Choice and the Independent Booksellers lists.