Review: House of Secrets / Author: Chris Columbus, Ned Vizzini / Publisher: HarperCollins / Release Date: April 25th
When Brendan, Cordelia and Nell are forced to move to Kristoff House in San Francisco with their parents, they are less than happy. However things are about to get much worse. Before the family have time to order in a takeaway pizza, let alone unpack, they are attacked by a crazed witch who transports the children and the house to a magical world where they must search for a book of terrible power. If they fail, they will never see their parents again; however, retrieving the book will mean that the entire world will fall under the witch's power.
If the name of one of the authors seems familiar, it's because Chris Columbus is a very well known screenwriter and director, being responsible for the first two Harry Potter films, among other things. And it shows.
House of Secrets plays out like a summer blockbuster movie, with lots of battles, close escapes and things generally blowing up. The book tries to tick off as many things as it can. Evil barbarian hordes? Check. Bloodthirsty pirates? Yup. First World War fighter planes, evil witches, magical battles, giants... You get the idea. House of Secrets is not a novel that dwells on anything for long, and in fairness to it, the plot moves along at a cracking pace. No sooner have the children avoided one terrible fate, than another threat presents itself. Unfortunately, like so many summer blockbuster movies, it isn't really very good.
There are a few problems with the book, but the biggest by far is the characters. Brendan, Cordelia and Nell are as flat as the pages that they are written on, and worse, are actually irritating with little in the way of redeeming qualities. A significant amount of the trouble that they get into is as a direct result of their own idiotic, selfish actions. Not only that, but their reaction to the things around them is almost nonexistent. When one of their companions is brutally murdered in front of their eyes, for example, they dwell on it for almost an entire paragraph before returning to their old, irritating selves as if nothing had happened.
The other issue is that the book is not really clear about which age group its aimed at. The 550 pages and the sometimes brutal and graphic depictions of violence would make it unsuitable for younger readers. However, the laughable plot, wooden characters and clunky dialogue would make older children roll their eyes, then discard the book and go back to their games consoles.
House of Secrets is a bloated example of style over substance, with a contrived plot, unrealistic characters and very little in the way of redeeming qualities. I would not bet against it being made into an equally bloated and tedious movie at some point in the near future.